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Itís time to fix the County budget process

County Council Candidate Justin Kiska

(2/2018) The county budget season is once again upon us and next month County Executive Gardner will unveil her proposed Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget. Itís expected that the budget will be a little higher than FY18ís $582 million, but the exact revenue numbers arenít in yet. Even if the increase is only about 2%, which was the increase in the stateís budget, that would put Frederick Countyís budget at just under $600 million.

Unlike the federal government, the countyís budget must be balanced and there cannot be a government shutdown. Why the U.S. Congress cannot follow the same rules as states and local governments is a discussion for another time. But in this county, the Frederick County Charter clearly lays out the budget process and its timetable from beginning to end.

The local level is where taxpayers tend to have the best view of how our tax dollars are being spent. Things like snow removal, trash pickup, and policing, for the most part, are all funded and handled by local municipalities.

That being the case, it is extremely important that the local elected officials be held accountable for how they spend our tax dollars. This is why checks and balances are so very important. However, in Frederick County, thereís only a very weak balance when it comes to checking the County Executiveís budget authority.

As it currently stands, the County Executive is responsible for preparing the budget and presenting it to the County Council for approval. The County Executive decides how much money is spent on each budget item. If the Council wants to make any changes though, the only thing members can do is decrease spending on budget items. This is all spelled out in Article 6, Section 5 of the countyís Charter and this puts a great deal of power in the hands of the County Executive, whoever that may be.

Since 2014, I have been calling for an amendment to the Charter, dealing specifically with the budget process. Under my proposal, the County Council would now also be able to increase funding for budget items. Of course, to make any change to the budget, there would need to be a majority of the Council members in favor of the alteration, but it takes the spending power out of the hands of just one individual.

On principle, I donít like advocating for more people to have the power to spend taxpayersí money, but at the same time, it is more dangerous for only one person to have that power; especially when the members of the Council were elected by the people of the county to look out for their best interests. My proposing this amendment is all to provide the necessary checks and balances in our government.

This amendment could very well open the door for negotiations on the budget from the very beginning with a give and take between the Council and the Executive so that when the full budget is unveiled, it already has the support it needs for approval. It allows for a more collaborative budget process.

I know in this campaign, talking about the budget process isnít exactly "sexy," but it is important. Most people donít care how a budget is put together. They just want to make sure the streets get plowed after it snows, potholes get filled in a timely manner, and their children have good teachers. How these things get taken care of is for policy wonks like me.

What people do need to think about is the type of person they want in Winchester Hall putting the budget together on their behalf. Budgeting takes long hours and the ability to make tough decisions Ė decisions that might not always be popular. Thatís where leadership comes in. Not being afraid to make the tough decisions, being willing to look at all the facts, and having the ability to come up with creative solutions.

This is just one of the reasons I am running for the County Council. As a business owner and the former leader of a community organization, I am ready to put my skills to work for the people of Frederick County. If youíre interested in learning more about where I stand on the issues, please take a moment and visit

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