ELKTON — County Council took a critical look Tuesday morning at about $1.2 million in county department expenses above budgeted amounts for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
The expenses are part of a mid-year budget amendment request presented during Tuesday morning’s work session that actually netted out to be $200,000 in additional spending, after County Finance Director Winston Robinson suggested the county has extra money in its debt service fund that could cover a majority of the expenses.
It’s normal procedure for the county to make budget adjustments through the use of transfers from one account to another throughout the year, mostly needed to cover unexpected expenses.
However, three council members signaled that they will be expecting an effort to decrease expenses for fiscal year 2016 by county departments.
County Executive Tari Moore has previously said she asked for conservative requests from the departments as she puts together a proposed FY2016 budget. She is expected to unveil her proposal on March 31.
Some council members expressed concern Tuesday that not enough is being done though.
“I find it ironic that last week we heard from a Cecil County Public School official that had data showing the school system has saved 13 percent in their operating budget and today we’re looking at increasing our own operating budget,” Councilman Dan Schneckenburger said. “The administration has to do a better job at saving taxpayer money ... In the three months I’ve been in office, all I’ve seen is more expenses.”
Councilman George Patchell agreed with Schneckenburger.
”I really can’t comment on the proposed budget until I see it, hopefully, we do see reduced expenses across all departments,” Patchell said.
Earlier, Schneckenburger asked Robinson what the county executive thought about the higher bills.
“She was not happy, especially about the rate hikes,” Robinson said.
Council President Robert Hodge said he was not concerned about how Moore felt about the increases, but rather what she is doing about them.
Robinson’s presentation included a long list of budget transfers from various departments to cover unanticipated expenses at the mid-year point.
He attributed the bulk of the increases to increased water, sewer, electric and natural gas rates; as well as unusually high vehicle repair bills in the Department of Public Works.
Snow removal costs is another culprit, yet one that the council seemed to understand.
The county council asked to delay introduction of the budget amendment request two weeks ago so they could have more time to go over it.
“We know this is a topic of discussion,” Robinson said as he began explaining a break-down of expenses and transfers.
One new position in the state’s attorney office was included in the fiscal year 2015 budget, but not the salary for the position, requiring a budget transfer in the amount of $74,321.
“That was added to address an error,” Robinson explained.
A total of $500,000 was added to DPW’s snow removal and activities share of the budget. DPW Director Scott Flanigan told the council that $400,000 was budgeted in this account, but the department has already spent $732,000 and need an additional $140,000 to replenish the salt barns.
Flanigan explained that money was taken from other DPW accounts and put into the snow account.
“This request seeks to reimburse those accounts,” he said.
With utility increases, $70,000 accounts for a 20-percent increase use of water and sewer at the detention center, $146,939 accounts for 16-percent higher rates for electricity and $66,120 accounts for a 30-percent increase in rates for natural gas.
Budget Manager Craig Whiteford said some of the detention center’s increased consumption could be caused from a higher population of inmates.
“In fairness, we budgeted low on some of these items,” Whiteford said.
Director of Administration Al Wein said the county currently has an LED lighting project underway that should reduce electrical costs in the county administration building. The county received a $60,440 grant from Delmarva Power to help pay for this project.
Telephone costs also spiked this year, according to Robinson, due to negotiation of a new state contract after the budget was adopted. The county needs an additional $227,000 to offset those contract increases.
“Maybe we should look at voice over Internet (for phone service),” Hodge suggested.
DPW’s request for an additional $320,000 for vehicle maintenance drew many questions from the council.
Flanigan explained that his department isn’t happy with higher than usual maintenance expenses, specifically with several International dump trucks that are not that old and have lower mileage — in the range of 44,000 to 74,000 — but are still requiring major repairs.
“We’ve been talking with the company and have asked them to make us whole,” Flanigan said.
He has not received a response yet though.
“We are not a satisfied customer,” Flanigan said.
County Attorney Jason Allison said data collected on this issue points to a possible design defect.
“We’re monitoring this,” he added.
Council members think a fleet manager position, which was funded in this budget, but not hired yet, could help defray some of these expenses.
“We’re interviewing now,” Robinson said.