ELKTON — The public hearing for a routine bond bill generated support from Cecil County Democrats, who gathered outside the County Administration Building on Tuesday night to demonstrate what passing the bill would mean for the community.
The bill that’s under consideration by the Cecil County Council would authorize the county to borrow $47 million in bonds. It’s routine to pass every few years so the county can proceed with capital projects included in the budget.
On Tuesday night, a handful of Cecil County Democrats waved signs imploring the council to approve the bonds, to continue funding for schools, road improvements, rural broadband, libraries, and firefighter/emergency medical services as well as better pay for public works and teachers.
“We’re out here because we are committed to making Cecil County better,” said Maryann Othello, a member of the Cecil County Democrat Club. “We need better roads, because people need to get to work and some families need all the support they can possibly receive … If we’re improving things with the bond issue, the services will be there.”
The Capital Improvement Program is funded through bonds, which are paid off over time. Cecil County’s CIP for Fiscal Year 2020, which was passed in June, budgeted $45 million in capital projects.
Notably, the FY 2020 CIP includes the replacement Chesapeake City Elementary School, continued funding for the North East Branch Library, replacing the Mechanics Valley Road over CSX railroad line, the third phase of Calvert Regional Park’s expansion, and the Elkton West sewer expansion, among others.
Cecil County’s operating budget in FY 2020 budgets $18.2 million for debt service. That shows 7.5% of the budget, still on target with the last time the council passed a bond bill in 2017. It also adheres to the county’s self-imposed rule of limiting the debt service to no more than 10% of the operating budget.
The county’s debt service has ranged as high as 9% or as low as 5% in the past.
John Dixon, the vice chair of the Cecil County Democratic Central Committee, briefly testified in favor of the bond bill during the public hearing. Outside with his fellow demonstrators, he said that he wanted to show his support after Cecil County Campaign for Liberty, a conservative watchdog group, had discussed the bond bill as a way to further the county’s “tax-and-spend” agenda.
Dixon was the lone person to speak during the bond bill’s public hearing. No members of Campaign for Liberty attended the Tuesday legislative session.
Regardless, he told the Whig that with the bond bill comes capital improvements that could pave the way for more development and more jobs as well as sound financial planning.
“In the long term, this saves the county money by not having to take out money in the general fund, and it’s a way to encourage developers to come,” Dixon said.
Cecil County, like other companies and government entities, is given a rating that signals to investors how reliable it is in paying off its debts on time and companies’ willingness to back it.
Cecil County has AA+ bond rating from Standard and Poor’s Global and Aa2 from Moody’s Investor Services, among the highest possible ratings at both agencies.
The county’s next rating review is in October, when County Executive Alan McCarthy and his administration will meet with rating agency representatives. It has been McCarthy’s goal to boost the county’s rating with new fiscal policies in the last year, and time will tell to see it they were successful.
The best bond ratings are AAA, one step above the county’s current rating at S&P and two steps at Moody’s.
Fellow demonstrator Liz Dubravcic focused on what the end goal of the bond bill would represent: improved roads, services and parks.
“We’ve been holding listening sessions, and folks are interested in getting better parks for their kids,” Dubravcic said. “If kids are engaged in the community, then they’ll come and give back to the community, and it’s the same with better pay for teachers. Anything we can do to improve the community that comes back to as dividends for the next generation.”
Council President Bob Meffley thanked those who came to the legislative session, noting it was important for people to be heard as well as the government to work for its people.
“I don’t care if you wear a red shirt or blue shirt, it’s the people. And we’ve always got to remember: it’s the people,” he said Tuesday night. “We want you to be seen. I would love to see this room full. Sometimes it is, sometimes we wish it wasn’t.”
McCarthy told the Whig on Wednesday that he was appreciative of the demonstration of public support on the bond bill.
“The bill is necessary for the the Capital Improvement Program, and without it we would not be able to move forward,” he said. “I’m glad to see we have people paying attention to the council and the county executive’s office and the process of county government.”
The bond bill is set for a council vote on Sept. 3.