Gregory Receives No Support For Proposed Cuts
Cecil County Councilwoman Jackie Gregory could not muster any enthusiasm among her colleagues for the handful of budget cuts she proposed during Tuesday’s Council budget deliberation session.
In fact, her suggestions were sharply criticized by County Executive Alan McCarthy and no other Council members offered to consider her requests.
The Council is in their final review of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget that was proposed by McCarthy.
Last week, the citizens speaking at the public hearing on the FY19 budget expressed both support and dissension concerning aspects of the budget, but when one pro-budget person asked those in the crowd favoring the budget to stand up, the budget proponents far outnumbered those criticizing the budget.
McCarthy’s proposed budget holds the line on property taxes.
On Tuesday morning, County Council President Joyce Bowlsbey said the Council, if suggesting any cuts, should carefully consider the impact those cuts would have within government departments.
Councilwoman Gregory was the only Council member to propose any cuts.
“I found, overall, about $150,000,” Gregory said.
Her first proposed budget cut would have nixed any salary increases for employees of the public library system. Gregory said that since the library workers obtained a 3.5% pay increase for the current fiscal year, they did not need any raises this year.
Bowlsbey and Library Director Morgan Miller said Gregory’s assumptions were incorrect.
Miller told Gregory that the library employee portion of the current budget did increase by 3.5% in the current budget, but individual workers did not receive that much of a pay increase. She explained that about 20 workers are in entry level positions and those pay scales had to be increased to keep up with the increase in the minimum wage. That category of the budget also covers the costs of other employee programs such as training and tuition, Miller explained.
Citing a pay study completed a few years ago and the efforts to adjust the pay scale to obtain and keep good employees, Miller said, “I think we’re in a very good spot.”
Gregory said she would like to see how Cecil County library workers compare in wages to other library systems.
Councilwoman Gregory then said she wants to cut the cyber security consulting money that would further bolster the county’s IT systems. She said the proposed cyber security expert should be enough. She said those consulting services would cost about $50,000, but county administration officials said that line item is about $33,000. Councilman Bob Meffley said that perhaps the security consultant would be enough.
IT director Brian Miller disagreed, saying, “it is not set it and forget it.”
The county needs a full time cyber security expert to constantly monitor the IT functions at the administration building, Sheriff’s office, 911-Center, county courthouse and other locations, administration officials said.
The county’s IT systems are constantly trying to fend-off attacks, Miller said. During the month of March alone, the website was attacked 3,220 times. At the same time, there were 500 attempts to get a virus into the county’s computers, he said.
At a salary of $75,000 in a field where a cyber security expert can command $125,000, Miller said the county will be getting a person with less experience in the field and the consultants, who would spend a month each year looking at the system, will offer valuable suggestions. If the IT system goes down, Miller said it would take time to get it back up, meaning many hours of unproductive time for county workers.
Next, Gregory suggested the County Council cut some of the County Executive’s budget – either the consultant or the Public Information Officer, suggesting maybe the positions could be merged or that work could be done by department directors.
“That’s one budget we could stand to shrink,” Gregory said of County Exec McCarthy’s budget.
McCarthy was noticeably upset by Gregory’s budget cutting suggestions.
He said that basically he and his administrator, Al Wein, manage the executive branch and that the only way he could do more would be if Gregory could add more hours to a day.
McCarthy said he has had a lot to contend with in the county. He noted that the previous County Executive had used the unassigned fund balance to balance the budget, shrinking that fund from $18 million to $5 million. McCarthy said he has reworked the numbers and expenses and is now promoting budgets that do not dip into savings, but the county needs to replace the unassigned fund money, a crucial number that affects the county’s bond rating.
McCarthy said changes in government have added new revenue to the county of about a half billion dollars. He pointed to the four million square feet of added commercial/industrial space and the 1,500 new jobs in the county which pay more than one-and-a-half times over the minimum wage.
The County Executive told Gregory this is no time to be nipping and nipping at the budget, nickels and dimes.
Pointing to a hacking incident that closed the government of Atlanta, Georgia for days, McCarthy said cyber security and consulting security are vital, noting that if the county had “one major breach on our security…see what that costs us.”
As for the consultant to his office, McCarthy said the savings realized by the consultant’s help in creating one department from two in the planning and permitting areas of government and the great comments from people dealing with the new department prove the value of the consultant.
“You can see tangible proof,” McCarthy said.
“I think the budget’s a good budget,” Council President Bowlsbey said.
The other Council members did not offer any proposed cuts.
Concerning capital improvement projects, Gregory proposed cutting the artificial turf field at Bohemia Manor. County Councilman George Patchell and others told her how successful the Perryville turf project has been, noting the same success is expected at Bohemia Manor. The administration would like to add a turf field a year until all schools have one. Gregory’s suggested cut was not approved.