The following testimony was presented by Joan Ryder during the Fallston budget hearing. A copy was provided to The Dagger:
First of all let me thank you, the County Council, for the 5% decrease in the General Fund Budget last year. I don’t think you received the credit you deserve.
This General Fund Budget as presented has a $40 million dollar deficit. The school system has a $12 million dollar school board structural deficit that does not include any funding, the start up for the Red Pump School, $1 million dollars needed for the treatment plant or the $500,000 dollars needed annually to operate it. In addition, it takes into account $17 million in recordation taxes that is not reoccurring.
I feel that this budget as presented grossly overstates revenues and extremely underestimates expenses. This is not sustainable. We need insulation from tax increases. The projections in this budget have to be applied against real bills.
How can you look at $17 million dollars coming from recordation taxes when we only received $3 million last year? How was this revenue projection forecasted? There are clear inconsistencies in how this is formulated. If you take the average price of a home in Harford County which is currently at $223,000, the revenue from the recordation tax would be $1,472 from each home. Divide that into the $17 million and that means we will have to have over 11,500 homes that need to be sold in 2011 to collect that revenue. There are only 165 homes that have sold in the first quarter of this year. Looking back over the last ten years, the average number of homes that have been sold yearly in Harford County is 3,254 and that was with three years of 4,000 to 4,100. Assume 11,500 homes are sold? Do you expect us to believe there are no expenses to the County that offset the revenue?
We see a 2 cents decrease in taxes and also the promise to use the constant yield. Last year we asked for the constant yield to protect us from the 20 to 30% increases. The assessable base was going up; however, the last reassessment in Northern Harford County went down by 13% and with the Bel Air area looking at reassessment in 2011 and the Rt 40 corridor in 2012, these decreases will directly affect the assessable base and it will be much lower. Using the constant yield will mean our taxes will go up!
The County Executive didn’t offer to use the constant yield when the assessments were going up so don’t use it now to increase our taxes when the taxable base is going down.
The handouts and constant spending need to stop.
There are two items that stand out in the Budget or Audited numbers:
#1 The General Fund Budget has increased from $318 million to $470 million since 2004. That is an increase of 48% or $152 million.
#2 The County Executive’s Budget & Staff has increased 41.7% while laying off County employees – which equates to an addition of 5 employees taking that from 12 to 17.
With respect to the public education component, you increased the Board of Education’s budget by an additional $3 million dollars at the request of the County Executive. With binding arbitration signed into law this week for public education unions and the certain transfer of teacher pensions from the State to the Counties next year, it appears sound fiscal management has been thrown out the window for the purpose of securing future votes.
We need solutions, not just double talk. Our County is in trouble.
In closing I think that you need to send the General Fund Budget back to the County Executive. We need a budget that is sustainable…one with realistic figures. Actions of this year’s budget sets the stage for 2012 and is unsustainable.
In this economy, we do not need a 48% increase in the General Fund Budget or
$8.5 million dollars more than last year. It would have been more if not for you, the County Council, making a 5% cut last year.
I urge you to send it back. Ask for an internal audit.
We need solutions. Our County is in trouble. We need to outsource jobs, consolidate resources and stop the spending and we need to do it now.