The following letter was released by Tony Passaro of the Bel Air TEA Party Patriots and Roy Whitley of Marylanders for Fair Property Taxation:
As of November, 2009, the writers were privileged to serve on the “Harford County
Financial Plan Advisory Committee” appointed by County Executive David R. Craig.
This 23 person committee was ably chaired by County Treasurer John Scotten. Mr. Scotten was competently aided by ten members of his staff. In addition, twelve business, financial, industry, and management leaders served as overseers and consultants throughout the intervening months. Each week, we reviewed, commented upon, and revised the 12-year old fiscal policy employed by Harford County in its daily operations.
We found the initial policies to be extremely well written, well administered, and able to stand the test of time. The Policy only required minor revisions and updates to concur with changes in current laws and operating conditions. It can be unequivocally stated, that the Treasurer and his staff have and do account adequately for every item within the budget and their purview.
However, of major concern to us and others on the committee is the fact that certain items are almost always blindly accepted, tracked, and counted. This without regard to fiduciary responsibility, efficiency, good business practices, or an eye toward reducing redundant operations….
These oversights cause major drains on the budget i.e. the taxpayers of Harford County are paying about $75 million more than they should…It is felt that these egregious errors in judgment be addressed as part of the fiduciary responsibility of the Treasurer and the Administration.
The most glaring items demanding both attention and corrective action are:
· Board of Education budget
The Harford County Board of Education budget for fiscal year 2009-2010 was 51% of the County general fund appropriations budget. Property owner/taxpayers are saddled with property taxes supplying 50% of county revenues and with income taxes supplying 27% of county revenues plus all other taxes imposed from our daily activities.
The County Executive and County Council are limited by state laws as to how much control they have over the funding/spending of this entity.
Management and business practices of The Board Of Ed have often been cited as questionable. The Board of Education is clearly very top heavy. Only part of The Board and Administration are elected. Their accountability, management, and business practices are currently above reproach and are not subject to regular questions or apparent “outside review”.
· Board of Education Maintenance of Effort (MOE).
The “Maintenance of Effort Rate” (each county MUST spend no less per pupil in the current budget than it did in the prior budget year) was set several years ago when the State’s economy was booming.
Now, in spite of the recession we are being forced to use an artificially high factor to set our Education Budget spending rate…. It stands to reason the since this factor was set when the State had copious revenues it is now too high and must be lowered in this time of scarcity.
Montgomery County along with several other Counties have petitioned the General Assembly to have it’s rate lowered and are asking that the $29 million dollar penalty for not observing the rate be waived….that is correct, if a County fails to spend at the “MOE” level it is penalized $29 million dollars by the State. Seems like when we do not have the revenue, the State forces the Counties to pay a penalty. Draconian at best……..
· Redundant Personnel and Services
A synopsis report (see attached spread sheet) furnished to us, identifies several areas of major redundant spending in Harford County.
The four entities that comprise our County: the Local Government, the Board of Education, the Public Libraries, and the Community College are all guilty of redundant spending……..
Notably, Grounds and Facility Maintenance for Parks and Recreation, a major cost item was not included. A total of 486 persons costing about $69 million dollars are employed doing a number of identical jobs and using duplicate tools, equipment, supplies, and services. It is estimated that 40% of this redundant effort can be eliminated saving the taxpayers about $28 to $35 million?? without the loss of any services to the Taxpayers…..
Four identical Human Resources Departments (one for each of the aforementioned entities) employ 49 people. These operate in their own fiefdoms w/o outside review or control.
One hundred twenty-two Information Technology personnel operate in two separate and un-coordinated IT Departments….each area with its own set of different systems and controls. Fortunately two entities, the Libraries and Community College were wise enough to outsource their IT service saving millions for the Taxpayers….
Forty nine Construction Management personnel operate in each of these four entity areas. In addition, twelve Fleet Management personnel operate similar Motor Pool functions for the County.
It is strongly suggested that we centralize and outsource the Fleet Management or Motor Pool services for all County equipment and vehicles. This action would most likely save the County millions as the two outsourcing entities have apparently discovered in outsourcing their IT services……..
No centralized procurement system exists. Thirty two personnel administer this function in their separate areas. By far, the largest non-centralized redundant effort exists in the grounds/maintenance facilities where 486 employees perform the needed work with separately purchased, redundant and maintained facilities, supplies and equipment. This does not include the unaccounted for redundancy within the Department of Recreation and Parks.
Harford County Department of Economic Development
In addition to the aforementioned items, it is strongly recommended that the Department of Economic Development be “Beefed Up” and directed to more aggressively seek out and recruit companies to locate in Harford County. These companies would help enhance the Counties tax revenues. The following 3 step program is suggested…..
Employ the services of a consulting company and charge them with identifying 75 to 100 desirable companies that need what Harford can provide…
Develop a series of inducements, tax holidays, favorable zoning, bond issues, set asides, free land, buildings and etc. to induce the companies to relocate some of their operations in Harford County.
Have a high level Harford County Executive (Treasury, Executive, etc.) contact the Chairman of the Board of each of the targeted companies and offer to fly out to make a presentation, in their Board Room, of what Harford County is willing to do to get them (the companies) to move some of their operations into Harford County….
The intention of the aforementioned 3 step program is to raise the Counties tax revenues by bringing in many new companies to our area.
The Harford County Business Incubator:
This is a good start, however, it must be publicized, (none apparent yet) and a method of securing SBA loans through a local bank for business start up loans be made available….A Business Incubator will provide an excellent environment for entrepreneurs to operate out of. This will go a long way towards encouraging the growth of local businesses….