Cecil County budget timeline

If we wait, it will be too late!

Now is the time of year to advocate for education funding in Cecil County and, in order for your advocacy to be most effective, you need to understand some steps in the process.

Honestly, most organizations are talking about the budget all year long–whether they are measuring success or failure with meeting the budget for the current year or determining budgetary needs for the future, key people within that organization are thinking about budgets year round. (CCPS discusses its current position against the budget at every monthly meeting and the documents supporting the conversation are available to the public in their BoardDocs document system.)

But many decisions for the coming year are being made NOW!


Here’s the budget timeline

Superintendent proposes his budget to the members of the board of education (the group that will have to approve the budget). Feb 6
Superintendent and board discuss any changes that may be necessary.
School system holds a public hearing where the community can comment on the budget. Feb 20
Superintendent presents his final budget to the county executive.
County executive presents his budget to the county council. March 29
County council holds a series of public meetings with every department to learn more about their specific request. April & May
Council holds a public hearing on the budget. May 23
Council votes to approve the budget as originally presented or with changes. June 4
After the county budget is confirmed, the board of education votes to adopt its final budget. June 10
New fiscal year starts and the budget goes into effect July 1


We’re at a critical point in the process

Once County Executive Alan McCarthy presents the budget to the county council, nothing can be added (the council can increase the budget for education but that increase has to come from some other place in the budget).

Our job is to let the county executive know that we support increased education funding in Cecil County. 

He’s an elected official and, while he hasn’t announced plans to run for a second term, that’s certainly a possibility.

We need to let him know:

  1. We expect education to be funded adequately
  2. We will either support him during the election or hold him accountable for his budgetary decisions.

But it’s not as simple as it sounds

The final budget request from CCPS will come with a higher price tag than recent budgets and that number is the minimum the school system needs.

In recent years, the county has funded CCPS at either the minimum level permitted by state law (called maintenance of effort) or just slightly above.

There will be a small but vocal group advocating *against* the school system’s budget. (Truthfully, they want to fight anything that costs money and doesn’t directly benefit them. They don’t grasp that maintaining a thriving community costs money.)

I haven’t even mentioned the capital budget yet.

Your mission, if you accept it, is to contact the county executive NOW.

It is our only chance at getting the necessary funding.

If we wait, it will be too late!

To share your support of the budget or to advocate for specific parts of the budget, you can email County Executive Dr. Alan McCarthy at amccarthy@ccgov.org and Director of Administration Mr. Al Wein at awein@ccgov.org.

CCPS FY 2020 budget Advocate or Else

First Look at FY 2020 Cecil County Public Schools Budget

Advocate…or Else?

Note: The articles on this website are my opinion based on my research and observations. I am not employed by Cecil County Public Schools.

Last week new Cecil County Public Schools superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Lawson presented his first proposed budget to the Board of Education and a typically sparse audience. (To their credit, new Cecil County Council members Al Miller and Bill Coutz were in attendance.)

I’ll be posting more detail as the budget develops but the short story is the proposed operating budget for FY 2020 is an increase of $6.4 million over the FY 2019 budget.

While opponents distort the data any way they can in order to inflame the uninformed, the reality is pretty straight forward.

The increase can be broken into two pieces:

  • Salaries–$4.1 million–Employee cost of living (COLAs) and step increases stipulated in the county’s contracts with various employee groups (teachers, support staff, etc.).

Cecil County Public Schools is the second largest employer in Cecil County (only WL Gore employs more people) with just over 2,000 employees, many of whom are county residents so much of that money gets spent within the county.

CCPS honored those contracts during the darkest days of the recession in order to maintain the quality of its workforce and reduce the number of employees defecting to neighboring school systems. When funding suddenly dried up in 2009 and hard decisions had to be made, CCPS opted to cut over 150 positions in order to continue providing increases for remaining employees.

It’s important to note that the proposed increase includes a plan to cut 12 positions as part of this budget (During his presentation, Dr. Lawson specified that most of the cuts will happen from a hiring freeze that is already in place and attrition as people opt to leave positions at the end of the school year.)

  • Everything else–Even with cuts across various departments, including some cuts that are substantial, and overly optimistic (my words) projected savings, the proposed budget requires additional funding.
    • Some of the bigger ticket items in the budget:
    • $360,000–Other salaries & wages–this includes substitute teachers, overtime, and similar expenses.
    • $190,000–Benefits
    • $800,000–Non-public school programs–Cecil County is required by state law to provide an appropriate education for all students and if the public school system can’t provide the education services students require, the county must pay for those students to attend private schools that provide the necessary services.
    • $400,000–Diesel Program at CCST–Supplies and materials need to be purchased in order to begin offering the diesel technician program at Cecil County School of Technology. I’ve seen a lot of interest in this program since it was announced a few months ago but without this funding and an additional $200,000 in capital funding for the necessary building renovations at CCST, I don’t see how it will happen this fall.
    • $220,000–Transportation–Increased expenses for transporting special education students
    • $330,000–Utilities–Summer heat that extended into the fall meant more air conditioning and the overall cost of fuel is projected to increase.

I could and will go into more detail in future posts but that’s the budget in a nutshell.

Bottom line: Advocate…or Else?

For those posting comments along the lines of “The schools need to tighten their belts” and find the money for these increases in the funding they already receive, while your insight is helpful ANY FAT WAS CUT FROM THE BUDGET YEARS AGO. Now we’re cutting into the meat.

Citizens: if you want CCPS to retain and attract quality teachers and staff and/or if you want to see a new diesel program introduced at CCST, you’ll need to advocate for this budget.

Employees: you know better than I do which school systems have not given increases in recent years or are considering that option as part of their FY 2020 budgets, the county needs to hear from you or that could become a reality in Cecil County (again, my words). With 2,000 employees, your collective voices would drown out the squawking of the few persistent malcontents but the county has to hear from YOU.

Budget Timeline

February 12 – County Executive Public Hearing (Citizen Input) 6:00 p.m.
February 20 – Board of Education Budget Hearing, 6:00 p.m.
March 11 ‐ Board Approval of Proposed Budget, 6:00 p.m.
March 29 ‐ County Executive Submits Proposed Budget to Council
April XX ‐ Board of Education Presentation to Council
May 23 ‐ Council Hearing on the County Annual Budget
June 4 ‐ Council Approval of the County Annual Budget
June 10 ‐ Board Approval of the Budget, 6:00 p.m.

Contact the County Executive Now

If we wait to advocate until County Executive Alan McCarthy submits his budget to the County Council, we’ll be too late. At that point, council can only approve the budget or cut it (they can increase education funding but any increase has to be offset by a decrease somewhere else).

To share your support of the budget or to advocate for specific parts of the budget, you can email County Executive Dr. Alan McCarthy at amccarthy@ccgov.org and Director of Administration Mr. Al Wein at awein@ccgov.org.

council wavering on school entrances

Council Wavering on Funding School Security Upgrades

Tomorrow night (9/4/18) the Cecil County Council has its first real opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to school security–and at least one council member thinks the county can’t afford the project.

County Executive Recommends $1.0 Million in Funding for School Security projects

In August, Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy recommended that the county invest up to $1.0 million to bring the entrances at some county schools up to current security standards. The funding for the project would come from money the county had previously held in reserve pending the outcome of a court case.

The council must now approve the expenditure in a vote that is expected at tomorrow night’s council meeting.

Weeks of Back & Forth

In the weeks since the county executive’s recommendation was introduced, there have been numerous discussions between the council and the administration of Cecil County Public Schools covering multiple tangential topics. But the conversation boils down to this:

The county wants these projects completed (Yay! Progress!) but some elected officials think the school system should fund the project rather than the county (Um, that’s really not how budgeting is supposed to work.)

Your fund balance or our fund balance?

As I’ve written previously, fund balance is the money remaining in the operating budget after all other expenses have been met (apologies to anyone with a background in accounting for my oversimplification). Cecil County and Cecil County Public Schools each have their own fund balances and policies regarding the levels that should be held in reserve.

CCPS, for example, was forced to use its fund balance in several prior years to offset reductions in county funding and has planned to use a portion of its fund balance to fund its FY19 operating budget because the county did not fully cover the CCPS budget request.

Despite these expenditures, CCPS managed to rebuild its fund balance to a level that exceeds the minimum requirement of the board of education’s  policy and in February they went to the county council for approval to use part of that additional money to complete several long overdue projects including the first four secure entrance upgrades, new security cameras in the county’s high schools, a new phone system, and a field house at Perryville High School (*hold your applause on the field house for now because that project appears to be very much on the bubble*). With some consternation, the council approved the request.

Keep in mind: this isn’t the way budgeting is supposed to work but desperate times=desperate measures

Remember, all of these projects are the responsibility of Cecil County and funding for such projects is normally accomplished via the annual capital budget process.

But the county has a lousy track record of funding small capital projects so CCPS made the unusual decision to fund these projects out of its fund balance

The county’s “waning” fund balance?

In an article in Friday’s Cecil Whig, council member Jackie Gregory wrote that the projects should be funded out of the CCPS fund balance because the $1.0 million would be better spent increasing the county’s “waning fund balance.”

The county’s fund balance is “waning?” It’s not sand eroding from the beach–if the county’s fund balance is lower than some would prefer it’s because the money has been s-p-e-n-t.

You might ask–how has Cecil County been spending its fund balance?–that’s the subject of another article so stay tuned.

Reach out to the County Council and tell them to vote to fund school security upgrades

The vote is tomorrow night so time is running out!

  • Email our county council members at jbowlsbey@ccgov.org, dschneckenburger@ccgov.org, gpatchell@ccgov.org, bmeffley@ccgov.org, jgregory@ccgov.org
  • Call the council at +1(410)996-5201
  • Attend and speak at the council meeting on Sept. 4 at the county administration building at 7 PM

Some Facts Before the Public Budget Hearing

Tonight the Cecil County Council will host its annual public budget hearing at Elkton High School. We will see many familiar faces as the usual contingents show up in support of their particular causes–Cecil County Public Library, Cecil County Public Schools, Cecil College, various public safety organizations–and many of us will say essentially the same things we’ve said in previous years.

Tales from Last Year’s Budget Hearing

But there’s always a group that speaks against any funding that doesn’t directly benefit them and they will tell some tall tales. Last year they got up one after the other and told the council how people were moving from Cecil County to Delaware because the proposed tax increase was too high.

I don’t follow Delaware taxes closely but I seriously doubted their claims were based on facts. One thing the speakers overlooked was the fact that school districts in Delaware have taxing authority, a funding source Cecil County Public Schools doesn’t have.

Here’s an example from one of the school districts most favored by home buyers:

The Appoquinimink School District Board of Education has approved a 13.8 percent property tax increase and approved a budget which runs a deficit and cuts programs.
At the same meeting on July 11, the board also approved the designs of the new elementary school and another new building containing a middle school and high school.
Effective immediately, the property tax rate will increase by about 25 cents from $1.8473 to $2.1024 per $100 assessed value. District officials have delivered the tax warrant—which lists the new rate–to the New Castle County government. The property tax bills should be mailed out by the end of this month.
Delaware does have some tax benefits but it’s far from a mass exodus and the speakers didn’t present any data to support their assertions.

Facts to Preempt Other Tales

Based on some of the messages I’ve seen repeated online from this same cast of characters, let’s put out a few facts in advance of the hearing.

Not all of Cecil County Public Schools’ fund balance is available for discretionary spending

Yes, Cecil County Public Schools did end FY17 with a fund balance of $16 million, however, it’s not as if the school system is sitting on a pile of cash that it can spend any way it wants. The use of much of that money is restricted either by board policy (the $5.9 million identified below as “Budget Contingency”) or government accounting standards.
The amount identified as “Unassigned” in the above image has been the topic of much discussion in the last few months as the CCPS board of education voted to use some of those funds for projects including secure school entrances at four schools, new security cameras at all high schools, a new phone system, and *gasp* the long-requested field house at Perryville High School–and the county council approved that designation of funds. Read all about that here

The Governor’s Salary isn’t a Yard Stick for Determining the Compensation of School System Leadership

I’ve seen it repeated several times in the last few months: the new superintendent of CCPS will have a salary higher than that of Maryland’s governor. That statement itself is true–According to this database of Maryland salaries, Governor Larry Hogan will make $175,000. In comparison, the minimum salary advertised for the new CCPS superintendent was $190,000. (Dr. Jeffrey Lawson was selected as the incoming superintendent at last week’s board of education meeting, however, I haven’t yet seen any information about the salary agreed upon in his contract.)

The qualifications for the positions are very different.

A candidate for the governor need only be:

  • at least 30 years old
  • a resident and registered voter in Maryland for the five years preceding the election
There are no requirements around higher education or work experience–just age and residency requirements. Heck, most of us in the room for the budget hearing will meet these requirements.
In comparison, a school superintendent in Maryland must meet the following requirements per state law (COMAR13A.12.04.03)
  • Have a master’s degree from an institute of higher education
  • Have 3 years of satisfactory teaching experience and 2 years of satisfactory administrative or supervisory experience in a PreK-12 school setting
  • Submit a minimum of 24 credits of post-master, graduate coursework in educational administration and supervision to include a balance of coursework in specified areas

While most superintendents meet the requirements to run for governor, current and previous governors don’t meet the requirements to run a school system. At the budget hearing, there will be only a few in attendance who meet these requirements.

Learn & Share Facts–not Fiction

I’ll say it again: Not everything you read online (or hear people say) is true. Choose your sources of information wisely and only share the truth.

What Can You Do to Advocate for Education?

  • Call or email our county council members at jbowlsbey@ccgov.org, dschneckenburger@ccgov.org, gpatchell@ccgov.org, bmeffley@ccgov.org, jgregory@ccgov.org
  • Call the council members at +1(410)996-5201
  • Attend and speak at the public budget hearing on May 22rd at Elkton High School at 7 PM
  • Learn more about school budget terminology
PHS field house CCPS fund balance

A Field House, Fund Balance, & School Entrances

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

FY19 Budget Post Part 2–Decade of Neglect Update

Read Part 2–Positions & Projects on Hold as CCPS Blindsided by County Executive’s Budget

In my last post, I explained some of the terminology associated with school budgets and discussed the sources of funding for public education. If you haven’t read that post, you might want to take a look at that one before reading this new post. Read it here

How did CCPS end up with an extra $6.4 million to spend?

If your only source of information on education in Cecil County is what you read in uninformed rants online and in the letters to the editor you could get the idea that CCPS was up to something shady. But if you read the actual articles in the paper or *gasp* attend a board of education meeting (here’s a link to the meeting schedule), you’d quickly realize those other less-than-reliable “sources” are telling tall tales.

The real answer to the question about fund balance couldn’t be farther from shady. That $6.4 million is the measurable, tangible result of the school system’s efforts to control costs and generally function as trustworthy stewards of the taxpayers’ investment in public education.

CCPS has saved the county literally millions of dollars in the last decade by developing and maintaining a culture of efficiency and frugality. Cost saving Initiatives like installing multiple large solar energy arrays, switching utilities from oil to natural gas when feasible, and adjusting employee health insurance plans, combined with several winters of weather less severe than 2014’s Polar Vortex, all contributed to the favorable unassigned fund balance CCPS reported at the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

What is fund balance?

Fund balance is a term most of us don’t run into in our daily lives but it’s an important concept to understand when talking about school budgets. My admittedly oversimplified definition of fund balance–it’s the money remaining in the operating budget after all other expenses have been met.

CCPS Board of Education policy requires the school system to maintain a fund balance of not less than 5% of its annual operating budget:

POLICY STATEMENT
The fund balance of the Board of Education of Cecil County has been accumulated to meet this purpose, to provide stability and flexibility to respond to unexpected adversity and/or opportunities.

The target is to maintain a total fund balance of not less than 5% of annual operating expenditures for the fiscal year.

The Board’s basic goal is to maintain annual expenditure increases at a growth rate, and to limit expenditures to anticipated revenue in order to maintain a balanced budget. The decision to retain a total fund balance of not less than 5% of operating expenditures stems from the following:

-This amount provides the liquidity necessary to accommodate the Board’s uneven cash flow.

-This amount provides the liquidity to respond to contingent liabilities.

Beginning in Fiscal Year 2011, unassigned fund balance shall be any remaining amounts.”

That $6.4 million is from the unassigned balance that remained at the end of FY2017.

Through solid business practices and careful planning, CCPS replenished the fund balance they were forced to dip into when Cecil County reduced its share of the school system’s funding in 2009. From the CCPS annual report for FY2017:

“The General Fund increased $4,331,152 from the previous year to $16,339,378. Several years of reductions in discretionary spending, and deferred purchases and repairs, rising healthcare costs and increased utility costs had caused a need to utilize a larger portion of the fund balance than originally planned in previous years. Portions of the fund balance were recovered in  Fiscal Years 2015, 2016 and 2017. For the first time since fiscal 2013, the target to maintain a total fund balance of not less than 5% of annual operating expenditures for the fiscal year was achieved in fiscal 2016. “

CCPS Fund Balance CAFR FY17

This screenshot from the CCPS Annual Report for FY17 gives you a better perspective on the county’s funding of the school system vs. the net change in the CCPS fund balance. For good measure, the green line shows CCPS spending.

CCPS funding from Cecil County vs Fund Balance

Why did CCPS decide to use fund balance to pay for the field house at Perryville High School rather than putting it through the county’s capital improvement plan (CIP)?

They tried (and tried…and tried) to get the county to pay for the project. It’s been included in the school system’s capital request for at least the last four years. In fact, when I started advocating for the school system 4 years ago, I was told the school system includes the field house in every year’s budget request because, in the past, some county officials claimed that they didn’t know about the project or forgot about the project from year to year. Even when there has been no chance in hell that the project would be funded, it was listed in the budget request as a sign that CCPS hadn’t “forgotten” about the project and wasn’t letting the county forget it either.

But there’s always someone who seems surprised when the topic comes up.

Anyway, when the new building at Perryville High School opened in 1977 a field house wasn’t included in the project. I’m not sure if that was due to a lack of funding or if field houses just weren’t considered common and necessary at the time. Regardless, in the last 40 years, field houses were built at all the other high schools in the county but Perryville never got one.

So, after 40 years of waiting and with no sign Cecil County would ever pay for the field house, CCPS decided to fund the project itself, using the money it had saved from cost-cutting measures over the last few years.

Maybe the county will fund the field house in future capital budgets?

For more than a decade, Cecil County has had a lousy track record for funding small capital projects for CCPS and, despite the best efforts of the maintenance staff, some of the damage caused by this neglect is visible in our schools.

As I told the council when I spoke in support of the budget amendment that addressed the appropriation of the fund balance, the most the county has funded for the CCPS small capital request in the last four fiscal years is $1.6 million and $800,000 of each year’s funding was the payment of a multi year contract that the county was obligated to pay.

With that kind of history, you can see why I told the council I had little hope of the county ever coming up with $2 million for the field house project.

CCPS small capital funding trend

How is CCPS spending the rest of the fund balance?

Because the accumulation of unassigned fund balance doesn’t represent ongoing sustained funding, it wouldn’t be prudent to spend the money on recurring expenses like salary increases or new positions. If the money was spent on pay raises this year, what would happen in the next fiscal year when that funding wasn’t available? If the county opted not to fund the increased salary expense, employees would then have to take a pay cut and no one wants to do that.

Sound financial management means the fund balance should be spent on projects and one-time expenses. Following those guidelines, most of the projects that will be covered with this money have appeared as part of the CCPS budget requests for one or more recent years–but not funded by the county.

  • Security camera upgrades at all 5 high schools and the School of Technology
  • Upgraded entrances at Kenmore Elementary School, Elkton Middle, Perryville High, and Rising Sun High
  • New phone system (to replace a system that is so antiquated that replacement parts are no longer available on eBay)
  • Upgraded parking loop at North East Elementary

CCPS Fund Balance Appropriation

To put it in simply: CCPS plans to use the savings from its operating budget to cover capital projects that would otherwise have to be funded by the county.

We should be thanking CCPS for taking care of these projects because the county had no plan to fund them in the near (or distant) future.

CCPS FY18 capital budget vs funding

What about the security of school entrances?

When CCPS went to the council in February to support their request to spend the fund balance, they assured the council that all school buildings are secure–every school is locked and visitors must be buzzed into the building.

With that said, as part of the school system’s safe schools initiative that has been in place for several years CCPS identified school buildings that didn’t meet newer recommendations for secure entrances–namely entrances with locked vestibules to funnel visitors into the main office

“Reconfigure main entrance design so that there is a secondary set of secure doors and all traffic is funneled into the main office before they can gain access into the school. To heightened the security further, make the initial exterior door buzzer controlled with a camera and intercom, thereby requiring visitors to be buzzed in the first door, funneled through a second door (which could also be buzzer controlled, if appropriate), and only then provided access into the main building.”

The schools identified are generally older and have not undergone a major renovation nor are they expected to undergo such a renovation in the foreseeable future. The need to fund projects explicitly for entrance upgrades is another symptom of the county’s decade of neglect. In the years before that decade multiple schools were renovated each year and features like upgraded entrances would have been a part of those projects. When the funding for major renovations dried up, so to did the opportunity to upgrade the entrances.

Moral of the Story? Choose your sources of information wisely

Not everything you read online is true.

Education is a large portion of the Cecil County budget so it’s understandable that the department is thoroughly scrutinized by both the county administration and the public. However, the scrutiny from the public often morphs into a handful of vocal yet uninformed residents hurling accusations intent on misinforming anyone who will listen.

Choose your sources of information wisely.

School Budget Terminology

Jargon makes me crazy–mostly because it causes miscommunication if all parties in the conversation don’t understand the terms being used.

Sometimes there’s no way around it so I want to explain some concepts so we’re all on the same page.

In order to understand the Cecil County Public Schools budget or any governmental budget for that matter, it helps to know a few terms (I apologize in advance to anyone with expertise in finance and accounting. The definitions below are for the “rest of us.”):

  • Operating budget
    • Funding for the day-to-day functioning of the school system, including salaries and benefits, utilities, transportation, and instructional materials like books
  • Capital budget
    • Small capital–Funding for projects like systems upgrades that are too expensive to be covered in the operating budget and are generally only funded by the county.
    • Large capital–Funding for major renovations and construction projects where the total cost is shared between the county and state.
  • Fund balance–Money remaining in the operating budget after all other expenses have been met.

Let me add one more term to our list:

  • Maintenance of effort (MOE)
    • A Maryland law that requires each county to provide at least as much funding per student as was provided in the prior year. Originally established in 1984 and updated several times since then, the law sets the minimum funding a county can provide to its school system. MOE is not a funding formula for an adequate school system. In fact, the state of Maryland has formed a commission to determine appropriate formulas for education funding because the current formula has been deemed to be insufficient. (Called the Kirwan Commission, no recommendations for funding have yet been made.)

I need to make this clear–funding a school system at maintenance of effort is the budgetary equivalent of the much-maligned participation trophy. In fact, state approval is required to fund below MOE.

No one funding at maintenance of effort (or just slightly higher) is a champion of education.

What does this all mean?

In my last article I shared my initial shock and disappointment with the county executive’s proposed budget for FY 2019. Now that I’ve explained some of the jargon, future articles will dive into questions that have been asked about the budget as well as questions that should be asked about the budget.

CCPS blindsided by executive's budget

Positions & Projects on Hold as CCPS Blindsided by County Executive’s Budget

Part 1

Read Part 2–A Field House, Fund Balance, & School Entrances

County Executive Alan McCarthy announced his proposed Cecil County budget for FY 2019 about two weeks ago. I’ve said little since that press conference because I didn’t know where to start and I knew once I started I wouldn’t be stopping any time soon.

I suppose the one year honeymoon with the new county executive was fun while it lasted.

I’m an unashamed fan of the work the leadership and employees of Cecil County Public Schools have done with budgeting and cost savings over the last four years that I’ve been paying attention. Leadership has pulled multitudes of rabbits out of hats to find the funding for projects and programs that the county refused to fund and employees have tightened their belts to help the cause. (Because the cost of healthcare is one of the largest expenses any organization faces each year and, as CCPS has adapted its benefits in an effort to control costs, employees have also been asked to shoulder higher healthcare costs.)

But we can only expect so many magic tricks.

Summarizing this year’s budget process so far…

CCPS put together a budget that addressed the most pressing needs of the school system, namely 29 new positions–nearly all of which would provide direct support to students:

  • 14 new teachers, most in the middle schools where class sizes are climbing
  • 5 positions for social workers and psychologists to provide the services necessary to support the student population.
  • 8 paraprofessionals

Keep in mind that CCPS was forced to cut over 100 jobs several years ago when the county suddenly cut funding.

Notice that pie chart at the top of this page which shows the portion of the CCPS operating budget that is spent on salaries and benefits–85%.

Small capital budget

CCPS requested the lowest amount I’ve seen in the last 4 years at $3.76 million–yet the county only funded $1.76 million and $800k of that is a multi-year contract that they have to fund!

Hmm, a difference of $2 million between the request and the proposed budget. That’s the estimated cost of the fieldhouse at Perryville High School.

Coincidence?

I doubt it.

But I’ll talk about the fieldhouse later.

Some of the deferred projects:

  • Secure entrances at Leeds, Cecilton, Elk Neck, and Holly Hall Elementary Schools–in February, county government feigned concern over these projects and I called them on it then. Based on the county’s proposed budget, I was right.
  • Replacement cooling tower at Bo Manor High School
  • Fieldhouse renovations at North East High School
  • Track resurfacing at Elkton High School

Large capital projects

These projects include new school buildings, major renovations, and other expensive projects like new roofs and HVAC, the county’s proposed budget pushes every project except for the replacement school for Gilpin Manor Elementary which will be completed this fall and the roof replacement at Bo Manor Middle & High out an additional year or more.

Some of the deferred projects:

  • Chesapeake City Elementary replacement school–requested to start in FY20 and now pushed to at least FY21–originally built in 1939!
  • North East Middle School major renovations–requested to start in FY20 and now pushed out past FY23–the building is so old it feels like you’ve stepped onto the set of Grease when you walk in the door. The building has been due for renovations for over 15 years.
  • Kenmore Elementary School–major renovations–requested to start in FY21, now pushed beyond FY23

This is ugly and it’s only going to get uglier.

Here’s what you can do to advocate:

    • Call or email our county council members at jbowlsbey@ccgov.org, dschneckenburger@ccgov.org, gpatchell@ccgov.org, bmeffley@ccgov.org, jgregory@ccgov.org
    • Call the council members at +1(410)996-5201
    • Attend and speak at a county council meeting (Tips for speaking)
      • April 17, 7 PM
      • May 1
        • Citizens’ Corner at 6 PM
        • Council Meeting at 7 PM
        • May 15, 7 PM
      • Attend and speak at the public budget hearing on May 22rd at Elkton High School at 7 PM
      • Learn more about school budget terminology
Bohemia Manor Turf Field

Hey, Bo Manor, the turf isn’t definite yet…

On March 30, Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy announced his proposed county budget for FY 2019 which included $1.1 to install the county’s third artificial turf playing field at Bohemia Manor High School.

But don’t plan that ribbon cutting yet–

Getting the field into the proposed budget is just the first hurdle for this project.
It’s not a done deal…not by a long shot. The proposed budget is now in the hands of the Cecil County Council for approval and, while they can’t add to the budget, they can, and will, cut items from the budget.
And a $1 million project is an easy target, especially when it’s part of a $2.2 million capital budget for parks and rec, a budget that includes $400,000 for unspecified improvements at the newly acquired Bittersweet park and $700,000 in additional improvements at the Calvert Park complex.
FY19 Cecil County Capital Budget

Budget deliberations are always dramatic and this year’s deliberations will be no different. It would be easier for the council to cut the field than to face the ire of the small but outspoken group who relentlessly lobby for lower taxes year round.

In order for this field to become a reality, the Bo Manor community will need to advocate for the project to the county council.
Until the council approves the budget in early June, nothing is final.

Advocacy is a group effort

When we advocated for the turf field at Perryville High School during last year’s budget deliberations, we tried to send at least one community member, be it a coach, a parent, or another interested party, to each speaking opportunity, and we encouraged people to join them as a show of support.

Only one person needs to speak but make it clear that the others in attendance share the same concern. One night I convinced my husband and teenage sons to wear Perryville swag and sit in the crowd at the council meeting while I spoke. On a different night our principal and some coaches joined us at a council meeting. Every touch counts.

Email is also effective

Not everyone is comfortable with public speaking so keep in mind that email is also effective. One of our coaches took the time to spell out the names of this players and the injuries they suffered that he attributed to our field conditions in previous seasons. Tell the council your unique story.

Here’s what you can do to advocate:

    • Call or email our county council members at jbowlsbey@ccgov.org, dschneckenburger@ccgov.org, gpatchell@ccgov.org, bmeffley@ccgov.org, jgregory@ccgov.org
    • Call the council members at +1(410)996-5201
    • Attend and speak at a county council meeting (Tips for speaking)
      • April 17, 7 PM
      • May 1
        • Citizens’ Corner at 6 PM
        • Council Meeting at 7 PM
        • May 15, 7 PM
      • Attend and speak at the public budget hearing on May 22rd at Elkton High School at 7 PM
Cecil County Budget for FY 2018

New Cecil County Executive Brings New Momentum to Budget Process

When Alan McCarthy was sworn in as Cecil County Executive in December, I had more questions than answers on his plans for the county. Would he stay the course of the previous administration by keeping the county’s head barely above water, so focused on merely surviving that planning for the future almost seemed like an afterthought, or would he be a force for change?

In March, he announced his first budget and demonstrated that he was setting a course that would start moving the county forward.

Yes, the proposed budget includes tax increases but, for the first time in years, the budget is balanced and doesn’t rely on fund balance to do so. For nearly 20 years, the County had been depleting its savings to cover budgetary shortfalls. That ends with this budget–well, it could end with this budget, IF the Cecil County Council votes to accept Dr. McCarthy’s budget as proposed next week.

Proposed Cecil County Income Tax Rate

The proposed budget includes a .20 increase in the income tax rate to 3.00, which if approved, would be the first increase since 2001. The new rate remains inline with those of our in-state neighbors, Harford County and Kent County.

Few things are less expensive in 2017 than they were in 2001–actually, nothing is less expensive.

Proposed Cecil County Property Tax Rate

The proposed budget includes a .0500 increase in the property tax rate to 1.0414. Cecil County actually reduced its property tax rate during the recession and has remained level for the past five years and, even with this increase, remains inline with the rates in Harford and Kent Counties.

Maryland property tax trends

Changes in State Funding have Hurt Cecil County

Even if no other expenses in the county increased in recent years (a thought so preposterous that it’s laughable), funding decisions at the state level have hurt Cecil County.

Highway User Revenues Cut

Each year, the state collects millions of dollars in tolls and gas taxes and, in the past, 30% of those funds were returned to the counties for the maintenance and repair of locally-owned roads and bridges. But in FY 2010, the state decided to reduce the portion returned to the counties to just 10%. At the county executive’s town hall on the budget in February, we were told Cecil County’s share of the highway user revenue plummeted from $6,229,808 in FY 2008 to just $644,934 for FY 2018 (projected).

So where do all those tolls the state of Maryland collects for the two bridges on the main roads into Cecil County end up? In the state’s accounts or on projects in other counties.  How much money are we talking about? In FY 2016, $11.6 million in tolls were collected on the Thomas J. Hatem bridge that carries Rt. 40 over the Susquehanna River and $168.9 million in tolls were collected on the Millard E. Tydings bridge that carries I-95. Let those numbers sink in.

Regardless of the total collected, a pittance ends up coming back to Cecil County.

highway user revenues

Teacher Pensions “Shifted”

Not only did the state opt to slash the counties’ cut of the highway funds but they also chose to push the financial responsibility for teacher pensions, an expense that had historically be funded by the state down, to the counties. That expense of nearly $4 million per year was phased-in over the 2013-2016 fiscal years–while Cecil County, like most in the state, was still reeling from the recession. You can read more about the 2012 change here.

Cecil County Teacher Pensions

In summary, we’ve seen highway funds dry up and teacher pensions “shifted.” All the while, Cecil County did little to offset those crippling financial blows.

Ok, enough doom and gloom. Let’s talk about a bright spot of this budget cycle.

Agencies Advocating for the Greater Good

The spirit of this year’s budget conversations is different from those in the last few years. In the past, county agencies and supporters were pitted against each other in a battle for any available additional funds. But this year we’ve heard representatives from those agencies advocate for their own budget as a component of the overall proposed budget.

Speakers at last week’s budget hearing represented Cecil College, Cecil County Public Library, Cecil County Public Schools, Cecil County Emergency Services and emergency-related associations, and Cecil County Parks and Recreation and I’m sure a few groups I’ve forgotten who were all advocating for the budget as proposed. In a time when many are divided, it is refreshing to see these groups band together for the greater good.

That’s not to say there weren’t those speakers fighting against the budget and the necessary tax increases. From my tally, it was pretty evenly split with 20 speakers supporting the budget and 17 speaking against it.

That makes it even more important that the county council hear from us before they continue deliberations on Thursday and vote next Tuesday.

Contact the County Council Today

For too long, Cecil County has been trying to make do with less and we’ve just continued to dig ourselves a deeper hole. At some point, we will have to invest in our community. If we don’t start this year, when will we?

There is never a “good” time. We need to start now.

Be part of the solution. Email the county council to tell them you support the proposed budget. Copy and paste these email addresses jbowlsbey@ccgov.org, dschneckenburger@ccgov.org, gpatchell@ccgov.org, bmeffley@ccgov.org, jgregory@ccgov.org

What to Expect When Speaking to the County Council

Budget season is in full-swing and some of us will be speaking to the Cecil County Council to advocate for specific organizations or projects. For those who have never attended a council meeting, I thought I’d give you an idea of what to expect.

It’s important to talk with the council now

In March, County Executive Alan McCarthy presented his proposed budget to the county council. Now the budget is in the hands of the council and the various departments covered by the county budget will appear before the council to plead the case for their specific funding. Between now and the vote to approve the budget in early June, the council will deliberate and accept public comment.

That’s where we come in.

The council can’t add to the proposed budget but they can cut from it. And since this budget includes modest tax increases, the council will most likely spend the coming weeks frantically trying to pare the budget down to something that doesn’t require a tax increase.

Worthwhile and necessary projects in just about any county agency could be cut if there isn’t enough public support.

Keep in mind–there is a small but vocal group of citizens who attend most council meetings in order to badger the council about county spending and budgets. We need to be just as vocal in our support of the funding for those things that will lead to a brighter future for our county, like education and infrastructure.

Opportunities to speak to the council

The county council holds legislative meetings on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 7 PM. On the first Tuesday of the month, the legislative meeting is preceded by the Citizens’ Corner at 6 PM. Check the Cecil County government website for dates, times, and agendas of upcoming meetings  as well as minutes and audio recordings of past meetings.

Upcoming meetings

  • Attend and speak at a county council meeting
    • June 5
      • Citizens’ Corner at 6 PM
      • Council Meeting at 7 PM
  • Attend and speak at the public budget hearing on May 22th at Elkton High School at 7 PM

Sign up before the meeting

If you would like to speak during the public comment portion of a legislative meeting or during the Citizens’ Corner you are asked to sign up before the sessions begin, however, time permitting, after everyone who signed up has had an opportunity to speak, the council will usually ask if anyone else in attendance would like to make additional comments before ending a session.

What to expect

Speakers are usually timed during both legislative meetings and Citizens’ Corner. I can’t remember if the limit is 3 minutes or 5 minutes, regardless, there’s a large clock in the room and you’ll be able to watch the countdown.

Communication with the council is very different between the two types of sessions. During Citizens’ Corner, council members can respond to your comments and you can have a conversation. During the public comment session of the legislative session, council members can not respond to you. In fact, if you are a little nervous about speaking, you might find it easier to do so during the legislative session when you won’t be asked any follow-up questions.

What to say

When your name is called, you’ll walk to the podium in the front of the room where you’ll be asked to state your name and the name of your town. After that, it’s time for you to share your story.

You don’t have to be an expert on the topic you are there to talk about. We are experts in OUR experiences. For those of us advocating for public education, we may be living the education experience every day. Whether you’re a teacher living it with students in the classroom or a parent or caregiver living it with your student at home, every experience is unique and worth being heard.

Perryville, it’s your turn

In the case of the Perryville community, we will be out supporting the installation of a turf field at Perryville High School, a project County Executive Alan McCarthy included in his proposed FY 2018 budget. If the funding makes it through the budget process, Perryville would be the first high school in Cecil County to have a turf field. As you can imagine, this is a big deal for our community.

Bo Manor Turf Field

While the turf field at Bohemia Manor High School is included in the budget, the council has the ability to cut it before their vote in June and, with its $1 million price tag, the field is an easy target during budget deliberations.

We need to convey to the council the many positive impacts such a facility would make on our communities. We need to bring numbers to meetings–even if only one person speaks, we should try to have several people attend the meeting with them.

Other ways to advocate

If your schedule doesn’t permit you to attend a council meeting or if public speaking isn’t for you, emails and phone calls to the County Council are just as effective.

  • Email our county council members at jbowlsbey@ccgov.org, dschneckenburger@ccgov.org, gpatchell@ccgov.org, bmeffley@ccgov.org, jgregory@ccgov.org
  • Call the council members at +1(410)996-5201

Other Posts about the FY19 Budget

Positions & Projects on Hold as CCPS Blindsided by County Executive’s Budget

School Budget Terminology

A Field House, Fund Balance, & School Entrances–Answers to Frequently Asked Questions