Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has released the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee Report for fiscal 2020. In December 2018, Ball renewed the committee through Executive Order, giving them several objectives and a deadline of March 1, 2019.
The committee was charged with reviewing the status and projections of revenues and expenditures for the county, not only for fiscal 2020, but also for fiscal years 2021-25. They also considered the impact of economic indicators and evaluated the best way to pay for the long-term obligations facing the county. The full report can be found at www.howardcountymd.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=BE0JFBVqnOY%3d&portalid=0.
The committee pointed out a significant and growing gap between revenues, which continue to experience moderate growth that could be further stressed by a recession and expenditure requests, which escalated to a new high. In fiscal 2020, the gap in the General Fund operating budget is projected to reach -$108 million before corrective action, partly due to a record-breaking Howard County Public School System request to increase funding by $89.3 million.
The committee also found requests for $232 million in fiscal 2020 capital needs, which is 2.5 times annual approved General Obligation bonds. They determined that without any significant changes, Howard County will struggle to meet many of the requests.
Despite these challenges, the committee sees an opportunity for the county to develop a comprehensive and sustainable long-term plan with stakeholders. “Without changes to revenues or expenditures, current patterns of spending are unsustainable in the long-term,” said the report. “We believe that a significant challenge for policy makers will be to balance pending fiscal restraints against historical levels of service, so that the needs of the population are met.”
Among the many fiscal challenges facing the county, the report highlighted the following.
- Support of the public education system
- Continued capital investments for roads, schools and other infrastructure, such as upgrades to (or replacement of) the county’s correctional facility
- Funding for safe communities
- Paying our long-term obligations (pension, retiree health benefits and debt service payments)
The committee recommends development of the fiscal 2020 budget, based on projected revenue of $1.15 billion, an increase of 2.7% ($30 million) from the fiscal 2019 budget. They also recommend limiting authorized new General Obligation bonds in fiscal 2020 to $70 million.
The report notes that “although Howard County should average 2% to 3% revenue growth over the next few years, the current expenditure requests are considerably outpacing that growth … Our elected officials have had to make, and must continue to, make tough decisions as it relates to the priorities for funding in our county.”