The County Legislature approved the 2017 Allegany County Budget at its November 28th session. We have come a long way since I first joined the Board in January 2006. The County was then facing a Budget deficit of $5 million. Two years earlier the Legislature had increased taxes by more than 20%. Things were bad, and likely to get worse. Seven new county legislators had been elected in the 2005 general election. Things didn’t change overnight, but we can now point to some dramatic improvements.
We paid off the $5 million deficit, and have built up a fund balance (surplus) of more than $20 million. My first several years on the Board we were forced to approve tax rate increases. The additional revenue was used to balance the budget and start building our surplus. Seven years ago we approved our first reduction in the real property tax rate. This year we approved our 7th consecutive real property tax rate reduction. Since paying off the original $5 million deficit we have ended every year in the black. Most years we have managed to add to the surplus, in addition to reducing the tax rate.
I have become familiar with “Budget Realities.” One reality is that operating costs always increase. Another reality is that state and federal mandates sprout like weeds. The Legislature is always under pressure to contain costs. Besides regular operating expenses, we are periodically hit with major mandated capital projects. One project involved building a new Jail. Many predicted that its cost ($23 million) would bankrupt the County. Sheriff Ricky Whitney and his capable leadership team have worked with the Legislature to contain the financial damage. We stopped “housing out” our prisoners in other jails, thereby saving thousands of dollars annually. In addition we started “housing in” federal prisoners. Most years this has generated enough revenue to make the bond payments on the Jail. The Jail doesn’t actually “make money” for the County, but it hasn’t been the financial “disaster” that some predicted. I could share other similar examples.
The County Budget is our best estimate of next year’s expenses and revenue. Here are some details of the 2017 County Budget. The total Budget is $117,187,874, an increase of $2,125,402. Real property taxes will generate $30,373,335, or $5,333 less than in 2016. Other taxes are estimated to generate $19,133,000. State Aid will generate an estimated $13,141,737. Federal Aid should generate an additional $14,781,878. We estimate that the 8 larges State mandated programs cost Allegany County a net $17.46 million, above and beyond State Aid that is received.
Some of the more prominent or visible programs funded by the County Budget include the following:
o Court and Judicial programs including District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Assigned Counsel, Medical Examiners & Coroners and Grand Jury – $1,720,418.
o Finance including Auditor, County Treasurer’s Office, Assessments and Tax Sales – $1,150,070.
o Various staffed positions including County Clerk’s Office, County Attorney’s Office, Human Resources, Board of Elections, Public Works Administration – $2,253,942.
o Shared Services for County Government – $1,787,947.
o Education including Community College Tuition & Special Education – $2,595,451.
o Public Safety including Sheriff’s Department, Public Safety Radio Program, Drug Programs, E-911 Dispatch, Probation Department, Stop-DWI, Jail operations, Traffic Control, Emergency Services, Homeland Security – $10,747,581.
o Public Health including County Health Department, Family Planning, Rabies Clinics, Water Quality Management, Tobacco Awareness, Early Intervention Program, Cancer Services Program, Bio-Terrorism Preparedness, WIC Program – $2,840,906.
o Mental Health Programs – $1,958,865.
o Bus Transportation Programs – $1,098,469.
o Social Services Programs – $31,980,830.
o Office of Development – $288,646.
o Office For Aging Programs – $2,152,565.
o Tourism and Culture – $236,625.
o Youth Bureau and Youth Programs – $98,106.
o Solid Waste Program – $1,914,827.
o Workforce Investment Act (W.I.A. Grant Fund) – $1,055,577.
o Risk Retention Fund for Health Insurance – $8,422,000.
o County Road Fund and Programs – $9,144,266.
o County Road Machinery Fund – $1,268,207.
I trust this review has helped you understand some of the complexity of the County Budget. It is a major responsibility of the County Board of Legislators.