ELKTON — In order to submit a productive budget for next year’s county services, County Executive Alan McCarthy opened the Elk Room floor to public input. A finalized budget will be brought before the council for official adoption on April 1 — with suggestions being “incorporated wherever possible,” he said.
Though there was crowd consensus supporting Cecil County’s education systems, some commented on other line items, such as county revenue and reportedly unfinished road projects.
Schools and libraries
Budget Manager Becky Anderson opened the meeting with details of the county’s revenues and expenditures over the past year. Of the 2020 General Fund’s total, $202,815,697, more than half was allocated to education-related operations — or over $103 million (51 percent) spent on public schools, higher education and public libraries.
An array of residents spoke in favor of providing maximum funding to Cecil County Public Schools and libraries. Speakers included several parents, candidates for the upcoming school board election, residents, teachers and school board member William Malesh — most representing a need for more school and public library funds.
Malesh warned the audience, including McCarthy and the county’s director of administration Al Wein, of the $5- to $9-million shortfall facing CCPS.
“This year, CCPS faces a financial crisis. State legislation is always trying to improve our schools, but it has flaws,” he said, adding that that CCPS is willing to dip into savings in order to cover costs.
“But our entire fund balance of our public school system, if in an emergency, would only pay salaries for two weeks.”
Making note of inadequately-funded state programs and decrease in enrollment, Malesh called on the county for action.
“You know, we are all elected officials,” Malesh said, reminding representatives that “ our names are in the book” of county history.
“You have built lots of structures, very positive things — let us build the people,” he told the county executive. “Let us make the doctors, the lawyers, the writers, the musicians, the artists, the scientists, the skilled artisans and build great houses and great farms that will survive in this county for the next 100 years. Let that be our legacy.”
Teacher pay and support
High school student Nathaniel Logan, 16, hopes to see county motivate teachers in the next fiscal year.
“… and motivation comes from salaries,” said Logan, an Early College Academy student.
“One day, these seats will all be filled by someone else and those students will come out of our education program,” Logan said.
Parents expressed to McCarthy concerns of increased class sizes, inadequate support for ELL students and those requiring Special Education.
The support teachers had in the room echoed from speaker to speaker — some being Cecil County educators themselves.
Library supporters were a strong front in the Cecil County Administration building on Feb. 11. Resident of Elkton and mother of three Crystal Conklin has a special relationship with Cecil County Public Libraries — who secured her daughter’s first library card at the age of eight months.
In a recent trip to a library outside the county, Conklin counted “no less than 100 printed signs” of forbidden activities within the children’s section — “don’t play here, don’t do this don’t do that” — that caused enough discomfort to make Conklin leave.
“Cecil County Public Library has truly designed and cultivated a space where children are invited, engaged and welcomed to use their local library,” Conklin said. “This is so special and you may not know that until you cross county lines and visit other libraries.”
Understanding the budget
The remaining 49 percent of county funds in 2020 were spread between public safety (20 percent), construction debt (8 percent), state regulated functions (6 percent), and county departments (15 percent).
An overwhelming majority of revenues (more than 90 percent) is split between property and income taxes to keep a balanced budget — which Anderson said the county operated on in 2020. Unlike the federal government and the state of Maryland, Anderson explained, the county has avoided an annual operating deficit.
“The county executive has to make tough decisions in order to be certain there is enough pie in each area to provide the services the county citizens need,” Anderson told the public.
One of those “tough decisions” was filling the funding void of state funding for public roads. Cecil County Public Works makes up 40 percent of the roughly $31 million budget for county departments.
The $12,395,489 fund is spread across 615 miles of road, county bridges and other activities (not including solid waste and waste water facilities). This is an area that has not seen consistent state support.
”The county continues to face a challenge to find greater efficiencies within this small group of departments to make sure county roads are safe,” Anderson said. “The rest of the county’s government functions have to provide the needed services with the remaining budget available.”
Other public input
Two residents of St. Johns Manor, Mark Gramer and Sam Arthin, asked the county executive that funds be allocated to the widening project on Oldfield Point Road south of Old Chestnut Road. Both enthusiasts of two-wheeled vehicles — Gramer, a bicyclist, and Arthin rides motorcycles — expressed concerns of the roadway’s safety.
This ask has been addressed by the county following accidents in previous years. In a separate conversation with the Cecil Whig, Public Information Officer Jen Lyall said that funds have been set aside for this road construction in the FY2021 budget. It will continue to be a gradually phased in project.
County resident Winston Robinson provided McCarthy with an alternative to bonding for capital improvement project.
He asked that the county check-in to the budget in late-summer/early-fall and assess any potential “surplus.” His idea is to utilize these funds for county projects, rather than bond out “… over the life of future citizens.”