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From the Desk of
County Commissioner Billy Shreve

(3/2012) I am quite sure by now that most, if not all, Frederick County residents are familiar with one of my mantras – Do the Math!

There are a myriad of challenges which face every elected official in the world, the economy and finances, the environment, education, jobs, infrastructure, and on and on. I really love the job of being a county commissioner because each day I awaken with new challenges, but also new opportunities. A new re-set so to speak. Each day I strive to do better and improve on my actions from the previous day.

I knew coming into office on December 1, 2010, that I was facing a big task in getting Frederick County Government under control. When we came into office we were immediately facing deficits, both in the immediate fiscal year budget, as well as a long term structural deficit like most governments.

This Board of County Commissioners made a very conscious decision that we would reign in spending and reduce the size of government.

A lot of officials will cry crocodile tears when they raise your taxes and tell you how hard of a decision it was to do that, but it had to be done. Let me tell you that while wrong, raising taxes is the easiest alternative when a government faces a shortfall. It is not a challenge, nor is it hard work to make people pay more out of their pockets. It is a simple solution.

The hardest decision is to do what the majority of this Board did, and that is to reduce spending, to reduce the size of government, to reduce the public workforce to levels approaching the size of our government at 2004 levels.

With all this hard work, we have found we will have a surplus in fiscal year 2013. It is a lot easier to deal with a surplus as opposed to a deficit.

Now however, arises my new challenge as a county commissioner that I can’t control. This year in order to do their math, the Governor of the state has decided to shift a sizable portion of the state teacher’s pension responsibilities to the counties. Statewide, this will be a hit to local governments totaling $239 million. Frederick County’s portion could be as little as approximately $1.5 million or as high as $10.3 million in fiscal year 2013, or July 1, 2012. By fiscal year 2017 that local responsibility is estimated to grow by approximately 50% to more than $15 million.

Now I know some are probably confused with the state math. As little as $1.447 million next year or as high as $10.281 million is a BIG window.

See, the state is going to help us (local governments) out by giving us offsetting “Local Relief,” to cover some of the new obligations. I’ll let you in on their language; “Local Relief” is a real nice name for taxes.

That’s right, the state of Maryland will shift half of the financial responsibility and long term obligations to the local governments, and if all of the Governor’s tax increases are adopted by the Maryland General Assembly, Frederick County will receive over $9 million in the new taxes to offset some of the teachers’ pension obligations. Conversely, if those tax increases are not adopted, or only some of them are adopted, our offset will be smaller and thus a higher financial obligation to the county taxpayers.

The Board of County Commissioners has taken a very strong and vocal stance against this shift.

The state claims it’s unfair that pension costs are determined locally and paid by the state, but sending the bill to county governments doesn’t make sense either. Counties aren’t negotiating teacher raises, school boards are.

The main “cost drivers” cited by the Governor are: -The pension benefits (controlled by the state, and enhanced in 2006); -The system’s investment returns (controlled by the state’s Pension Board); and -Salary increases for teachers (negotiated by the school boards, not the county government).

And where did the money come from for all these teacher raises anyway? State-mandated Thornton funding. More money for education obviously means school systems hire more teachers and pay them better. That has been the state’s policy for a decade, all the state-approved school plans say so, and now they claim its local decisions driving costs.

Also keep in mind that the state has not cut the education budgets while local and municipal governments, the arts, non-profits, all have taken more than their fair share of cuts. It also should be noted that the only budget under Maryland law that doesn’t decline in a recession are the local Board of Education budgets.

If Frederick County is to assume this new unfunded mandate from the state, a fiscal year 2017 potential $15.3 million shift to the county could potentially translate into layoffs, furloughs, cuts to programs, and more. A cut of this magnitude roughly could be the equivalent of 34 furlough days ($450,000 per day) for all county employees, or more than 210 employee layoffs ($72,534 average salary & fringe of non-uniformed employee), or 170 law enforcement positions lost ($90,272 average salary & fringe), or 172 fire & rescue personnel lost ($88,600 average salary & fringe), just to name a few items.

I am asking for everyone to make their voices heard in Annapolis. If anyone agrees that this unfunded mandate to local government is wrong, and the state needs to be responsible for their programs and obligations, please contact your senators and delegates in Annapolis and ask that they vote to “Stop the Shift” of teacher pensions onto local governments.

In order to save space here and not list out all Frederick County senators, delegates, and contact information, you can go to the County Commissioners’ Legislative Affairs webpage, www.FrederickCountyMD.Gov/Legislative, and click onto “Delegation Contacts” and can write, call or e-mail them to voice your opinion.

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