Northern High School construction is scheduled to be wrapped up by 2020.

Prince Frederick, MD – While two county commissioners were attending a local political event, Calvert County Government officials presented the proposal all five board members will be voting on early next month. The fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget was officially presented to the public during a hearing held Tuesday, May 22 at Calvert Pines Senior Center. The proposed budget totals $297.5 million and includes a new property tax rate of $0.937 per $100 of assessed value. Property tax receipts are the county government’s largest revenue source. The current rate is $0.952, which was set in 2016 when the commissioners and staff were working on the FY 2017 budget, which had a deficit of $9 million. For over a generation the rate stood at $0.892 per $100 of assessed value before a majority of the board raised it along with the county’s income tax rate in order to plug the budget hole. Last year, Commissioner Steve Weems [R – At large] proposed a reduced property tax rate of $0.928 but was unable to garner any support from the other four commissioners.

For quorum purposes, Weems, who is seeking reelection, was present at the budget hearing along with Commissioners’ President Evan K. Slaughenhoupt Jr. [R – District 3] and Commissioner Pat Nutter [R – District 2], neither of whom is running for reelection.

Slaughenhoupt opened the hearing noting that the proposed property tax rate “goes beyond the constant yield rate.”  Most of the over $14 million in additional budgeted money ($10 million) comes from the payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement forged with Dominion Cove Point. The Lusby natural gas plant’s liquefaction unit is in operation and the fuel is now being exported. A projected bump in income tax revenue ($3.2 million) and Highway User Revenue ($400,000) are also helping to ease the property tax dependency.

Other budget highlights include a $1.5 million increase in the county’s paving budget, a pay step increase, a restored step and a 1.2 percent cost of living adjustment for county government employees; a $6.2 million contribution to the capital projects fund and funding for the Other Post Employment Benefit (OPEB) trusts for county government and Calvert County Public Schools (CCPS) employees ($5.4 million and $7.2 million respectively). For the first time in county history, funding will be allocated to hire one paramedic to work with Calvert’s emergency responders.

According to CCPS Superintendent Dr. Daniel Curry, the added funding ($5.1 million) from the county will mean salary increases for school system employees, some of whom are four pay steps behind on their original scale. Curry cited five budget goals for FY 2019 and during the three subsequent fiscal years—equity, student outcomes, climate and culture, workforce, and community engagement. The superintendent added that staff will be moving into the new Northern High School (NHS) in January.

After the NHS project is wrapped up in 2020 the Beach Elementary School renovation/replacement  will be the CCPS’ capital plan focus. In addition to thanking the commissioners for their funding support to enhance safety components in local school buildings and hiring three additional sheriff’s deputies for schools, Curry, who has worked for several other school systems, lauded the board for lowering the property tax rate. “Nobody does that,” said Curry.

Calvert County Government’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) Analyst Veronica Atkinson gave an overview of the FY 2019 – FY 2024 CIP, which totals $393.6 million. In addition to the NHS project, Calvert’s much-anticipated animal shelter construction project is expected to be completed later this year. Other projects noted were a new clubhouse for the county-owned Chesapeake Hills Golf Course and the Prince Frederick Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) enhanced nutrient removal upgrade. At the golf course a temporary structure is being used to house operations. The WWTP project will cost an estimated $25 million, with approximately have the project expected to be funded by grants.

Most of the speakers offering public comment asked county officials to continue the tradition of funding land preservation programs. “Now that the economy has been recovering and seeing more than a 20 percent increase in the budget between FY ’17 and FY ’19, it looks like there should be an opportunity for restoring funding to the land preservation program,” said American Chestnut Land Trust Executive Director Greg Bowen, a former director of the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning. “Therefore we are asking that 1 percent of the total county budget be used to start up the leveraging program and provide matching funds to the state preservation program.” Bowen added that dedicating 1 percent of the county’s operating budget each year for the next 20 years “will allow us to reach the 40,000 acre land preservation goal.”

“Land preservation is seen as an expense. It should be seen as an investment,” said Calvert County Farm Bureau Vice President Jamie Tiralla.

Three commissioner candidates spoke at the hearing. Susie Hance-Wells, a Democrat running in the Second Election District and is unopposed in the June Primary, cautioned that a big budget increase could lead to a bigger government. “We have to live within our means,” said Hance-Wells, who added the money from Dominion should be regarded as “a bonus.”

Democrat Holly Heinz Budd, who is running in the Third Election District and is unopposed in the June Primary, echoed Bowen’s comments regarding land preservation and indicated it was good to know that only 1 percent of the operating budget could be effectively dedicated to rural character retention.

Democrat Tricia Powell, who is running in the First Election District, called the planned property tax rate reduction “not good enough. Was this budget put together with cost-containment in mind?”

The three commissioners took the Department of Finance and Budget staff’s recommendation and voted to hold the public record open until close of business June 4 with a vote for adoption scheduled for the following day. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

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