ELKTON — County Executive Danielle Hornberger’s fiscal year 2022 budget proposal calls for a 1.3 percent property tax cut.
If approved, it would be the first reduction in property taxes since the charter government was established in 2010.
“When I was talking to community members, the number one issue people struggled with was high taxes,” said Hornberger, who made tax cuts a cornerstone of her campaign in 2020.
The tax reduction comes with a decrease in the year-over-year growth of the general fund. General fund expenditures are set to increase by 1.6 percent in 2022 compared to the 2021 budget’s 2.4 percent increase. Hornberger said this reduction does not represent a decrease in services as much as reduction in spending on capital projects, as well as the consolidation of contracts to be more efficient and enable better use of federal funds.
One example of a cost saving measure, Hornberger said, was buying a new wash bay for the Department of Public Works. By combining the wash bay with a different project, the government could use federal funds to reduce local costs.
“The original capital improvement project budget had a request for a wash bay at our mid-county transportation hub as well as a wash bay at Public Works’ maintenance yard,” Hornberger said. “We were able to combine this into only having to build one wash bay and will be able to save additional money because the federal government will partially pay for our transportation hub and wash bay.”
Though libraries and public education saw their operating budgets receive minor cuts, the other three general fund departments, public works, information technology, and the sheriff’s office all saw their expenditures increase by over 3 percent.
The library system received a cut to its operating budget of 5.7 percent, though the debt service budget, which goes to the construction of the new North East budget was increased.
The Cecil County Public Schools Board of Education had requested a 0.7 percent increase in funding in February, but are set to see a 0.1 percent decrease instead — $128,913 cut from capital outlay funding. Hornberger increased the funding per pupil by almost $150, but enrollment losses due to the pandemic caused the budget to stagnate.
There is a concern that reduced funding will make it hard for the system to adjust if a large number of students return in the Fall if the COVID pandemic dies down. Hornberger said the issue will be dealt with if it occurs.
The funding for Cecil College also received a minor cut of 0.4 percent, compared to the 2.8 percent budget increase between 2020 and 2021. Like for CCPS, the cut is to capital outlay funding.
“I met with each department a number of times, and after listening to each department, we made tough decisions,” said Hornberger.
The Information Technology Department may receive a substantial increase in its budget of about 10.2 percent. Hornberger said the increase will create a position to work closely with the federal government, state and private sector providers. She said that Cecil County cannot apply for rural broadband access grants provided by the federal government and set for expansion by the Biden Administration, because the area is not considered rural enough, which makes securing funding for broadband access more difficult.
Public works is marked for 3.2 percent more funds. The majority of the funds — $7,873,000 — will go to the Chesapeake City Elementary School construction project. The other large expenditure in the capital budget, $2,176,000, is going to Cecil College for mechanical infrastructure, a new entrance and other facilities.
The Sheriff’s Office has a 5.7 percent proposed increase in expenditures, with an 12.1 percent increase in community corrections funding. The community corrections increase is due to state grants ending and the county needing to pick up the cost of pretrial programs.
Though not part of the general fund, The Department of Community Services received a substantial increase in funding of $1,696,773 million.
Hornberger created a new domestic violence division within the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office. The division will include a new assistant state’s attorney and a victims witness coordinator.
“I stand by my decisions,” Hornberger said. “I’m very happy to fund the sheriff’s department, and our police are doing an excellent job.”
County council will discuss the budget Tuesday, and there will be a public hearing May 20.