The Board of Garrett County Commissioners presented an overview of county projects, mandates, and projected costs as an annual county update on Monday, January 6, 2020.
“There are good things happening in the county but we will all certainly be faced with some challenges in the future,” said Commissioner Paul Edwards.
During the update, the Board presented a high-level list of economic development and infrastructure projects that are improving the county’s position for attracting businesses. Then, each Commissioner shared the details of some of their concerns.
The first issue is education funding as state mandates loom on the horizon.
Commissioner Jim Hinebaugh presented information on the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education committee (Kirwan Commission). This is the state-assembled 26-member team to ensure Maryland Public Schools meet the challenges of a changing global economy. To accomplish their goal, the group has worked nearly three years to review the state funding formula and make state-wide policy recommendations.
The Kirwan Commission recommendations can be summarized in the following categories:
-extend pre-k to 4-year-olds and certain 3-year-olds
-increase teacher standards and salaries
-revamp high school curriculum to prepare college and career-ready students
-provide increased support for special education and low-income students
-create accountability program to ensure educational spending is appropriate
A Bill has been proposed and is expected to pass in the 2020 legislative session. Once it is passed by the state government, the County will know the exact details and how significant the impact will be on the taxpayers of Garrett County.
Overall, the Board feels that Kirwan Commission recommendations will be positive adjustments to the structure of our school system but the issue is how to accommodate the significant local cost.
If the recommendations are approved by the state, the best forecast currently shows the local government share would be an additional $1.25 million for Garrett County Public Schools each year for the next ten years; equating to an additional $12.5 million.
“The takeaway here is that, while we don’t know the exact details until the bill is approved, we know this legislation will force us to accept a significant share of the costs,” said Commissioner Jim Hinebaugh.
To cover the projected Kirwan Commission costs, the Board calculated a tax increase of 24%, or $0.25 cents. This would take the property tax rate to $1.306.
Commissioner Larry Tichnell also addressed local-level educational funding requests.
The Garrett County Board of Education’s (BOE) Strategic Facilities Committee Plan recently submitted a $50.6 million plan to the BOE to review. Note, while no decisions have been made at this time, but the local government share of this facilities plan could be over $30 million.
Local share dollar amounts presented on the facilities proposal are:
Southern Middle/Broadford Elementary $18,743,000
Security Vestibules $663,000
Head Start $611,000
Building Systems $4,607,000
Open Space Conversion $3,982,000
Crellin Elementary Renovation $730,000
Crellin Elementary School Additions $1,519,000
Relocate Board Office $105,000
Commissioner Tichnell noted that the cost to maintain 100%-occupied buildings is the same as 50%-occupied buildings. Using state utilization figures, the current capacity of the 12 Garrett County schools only averages 63%.
“The Board of Education will have to make a lot of hard decisions and take a look at closing schools,” Commissioner Tichnell said. “We just cannot balance the budget with all of these funding requests.”
Local government support for the BOE has been steadily increasing while the student population has continued to decline. In fiscal year 2020, the Board of Garrett County Commissioners are funded the BOE with $27.7 million. This is a total of $15,180 per public school student.
To ensure our voice is heard with state lawmakers, the Board of Garrett County Commissioners have been holding meetings with our representatives and are all highly active on a committee called the Maryland Rural County Coalition. Working with the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), the Rural County Coalition presents the rural perspectives of Maryland counties to the legislative committees.