No sooner the Charles County Commissioners finished alleviating a $4.5 million deficit in the FY2014 budget when attention turned to Fiscal Year 2015. Various departments from county government have been appearing before the commissioners in recent weeks to plead their case for funding, and as the May 6 deadline approaches for setting the proposed budget, there’s still a significant gap which needs to be addressed.

 “We have a big challenge in front of us,” Finance Director David Eicholtz told the commissioners April 8.

“If we funded every enhancement or request, if you will, we’d have a budget that is $40 million out of balance,” Eicholtz told TheBayNet April 11. “To put the budget in balance, we’d either have to raise fees or raise taxes. On March 25, I presented the commissioners with a baseline budget that is $12 million in the red. We will either have to cut out some items or find ways to fund them. We’re still looking at our budget needs.”

After hearing from many of the county’s departments on their proposed budgets and requested enhancements April 9, Commissioner President Candice Quinn Kelly said, “the department heads need to go back and revisit this. We respect their opinions, but it’s evident we have to do more.”

“We did consult with the departments,” Eicholtz noted. “If it’s to continue an existing program, we try to get it in [the budget]. Ninety-nine percent of the departments have already looked at their numbers. They might be able to go back and find a little more they can trim, but are they going to be able to offer that important services they provide? ”

“It’s kind of harsh to say, but if we can’t find a way, none of it can happen,” Kelly said. “We find ourselves looking at enhancements we have no money to fund.”

“We can go back one more time and see if staff can find more areas to cut,” Eichholtz said.

“Only they know how tight their situation is,” Kelly responded. “We have to rely on their judgment.”

“It’s not as simple as ‘let’s cut some projects out,’ “ Eicholtz stated. “It’s not that simple. Some of those projects are funded through long-term bonds.”

When asked how the FY15 budget compares to years past, Eicholtz said, “If you look at last year’s budget, when requests were made we were $50 million out of balance. This year’s figure of $40 million in requests is not that usual. But if you look at the baseline budget, we don’t typically have $12 million out of balance. This is a little more unusual. $7.7 million of that $12 million is money requested by the Board of Education to fund the new St. Charles High School. If you deduct that $8 million, then we’re down to $4 million out of balance, and that’s more in line with what we usually see.”

The county will hold another budget work session on April 22, followed by another work session and a public hearing on the budget April 23. Another work session will be held April 29 before the final budget is approved May 6.

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