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Budget passes, with amendments

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ELKTON — The weight of economic impact due to coronavirus played a large role in the final FY2021 budgets (and related bills) approved by the Cecil County Council on Tuesday.

After weeks of department presentations — and reworking numbers in an attempt to follow trend with impacts of coronavirus — the fiscal spendings and revenue have been locked in for 2021. The council also maintained the county property tax rate from last year at 1.0414 per $100 of assessed property value. Constant yield was not adopted — a hot topic in pubic conversations.

The tax rate resolution passed 3 to 2. Council members Al Miller, George Patchell and Council President Bob Meffley voted in favor with Council Vice President Jackie Gregory and Bill Coutz voting “nay.”

The FY2021 appropriations budget (as amended) passed 3-2; same count.

Prior to the legislative session, the five council members deliberated more than 20 amendments to the Capital Improvement Program FY2021-2025 and the annual budget an appropriations ordinance (the overall allocation of the county’s current expense budget, capital budget, special purpose budgets and grants budge) for fiscal budget starting July 1.

The council adopted six of Gregory’s seven amendments to the capital budget. Gregory’s reasoning for her cuts were “in consideration for the current health and economic crisis.”

These changes include removing from the FY2021 capital projects: the $1.3 million reduction for the Rising Sun synthetic turf field, improvements to the administration and animal services building and a bridge replacement project under the Department of Public Works.

The operating budget amendments that passed through council were a reduction of $200,000 from the Cecil College allocations for soccer fields and a reduction from Planning and Zoning of $200,000 for LIDAR and topography acquisition.

Gregory submitted the bulk of considerations to these documents. Though a majority of those amendments “died” during a 3:30 p.m. work session on May 19.

Some public comment

Over social media, in a well-attended pubic hearing, in notes/calls to council members, the public has played an active role in the final decisions of the FY2021 budget. Many have come out in favor of supporting schools and libraries to the fullest extent possible, as well as those who have spoke out against “non-essential” spending. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, some residents have been loud in urging the council to keep in mind that most have been negatively impacted in some way.

Some critiqued council members for not speaking up more when slimming the budget.

”At a time when people are struggling — we have no idea what the future is going to hold — I find it unbelievable that the rest of the council sitting there couldn’t come up with any cuts,” said Donna Caudell, a resident of Elkton.

”The taxpayers are tired,” Caudell continued, agreeing with an earlier comment from a fellow Cecil County resident.

Though not all voiced frustration with the council. Others commended their county leaders for coming together and attempting to best represent taxpayers.

Even Don Harmer, who is running against Gregory for the District 5 seat in the upcoming election, said it was “great” to see everyone come together to produce a budget that the administration and council can work with.

”There were several amendments brought forward, they were taken apart piece by piece,” Harmer said of the work session. “The funding sources were discussed, how the funds could be applied, how they could be moved.

”This is what the process of the budget is about. It’s tough on both sides.”

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