Commissioner Howard WTTR Address for March 10,2013

Keep Carroll Strong Plan

Good morning!

As a former Chamber Board member, former Community College instructor and member of the Leadership Carroll class of 2003, I am pleased to see this program thriving and want to thank you having this event and thank the Carroll Arts Center for hosting.

The state of Carroll County is “strong”.

We have a balanced budget for 5 years out, we have reduced taxes, reduced debt and maintained our great credit rating. We are building a new school, have kept up our commitment to ag preservation and maintained infrastructure. We have withstood a steady stream of Federal and State regulations and a staggering array of new costs including $4 million in teacher pensions. We have fought to maintain the independence of Carroll County. From our master plans, to Plan Maryland opposition, from our own regulations to the resistance of state and federal overreach, we have fought to uphold the US and Maryland constitutions and to protect your rights.

This Board will decide if we succumb to Federal and state mandates, fiscal uncertainty and political rhetoric only to weaken Carroll County, or if we will build on our strength, invest in our future, retain the best, and chart a course all our own to keep Carroll County strong and the best place to raise a family, educate a child, start a business, operate a farm, retire, celebrate America and serve as an example to others.

Some will say our best days are behind us, we must hunker down, reduce more staff, eliminate key programs and accept the mediocrity leaving us infrastructure in decline, public safety at merely adequate levels and education funded at state allowed minimums. I wholly reject this notion! In our lifetime, a President that told us our best days were behind us, we were to blame, we should lower our hopes and lessen our dreams. Fortunately, another came along who saw us as a shining city on a hill, encouraged us to dream big dreams, and reminded us that freedom was not passed along in the bloodstream but had to be fought for. He challenged us to restore our pride and our strength with confidence because after all we are Americans.

I am proud that last year this Board took a conservative budget and made it more conservative, put millions into reserve for contingencies and made difficult choices. The challenge this year will be even greater. With this in mind, I ask the citizens of Carroll County to support and my colleagues to pursue a course to Keep Carroll strong, and I offer ideas to this Board for its consideration, discussion and debate.

I am proud that this Board has reduced taxes. Taxes take our hard earned money, put burdens on businesses and stand in the way of an economic recovery our country needs. Therefore, we should reduce the local income tax rate from 3.05% to 2.99%. If there are not funds for an income tax rate reduction, I support use of up to $2 million of one-time fund balance surplus (that by law must be used in FY14) for a one-time credit or abatement on property taxes. However, let me be clear, I will not support further tax reduction if it means failing to adequately fund public safety, infrastructure or education.

We are wise to manage debt. Unlike the Federal and State governments, Carroll County only incurs debt for long-term assets, not operations. We inherited declining debt and accelerated it by freezing or eliminating $40 million in projects, just sold the Wheeler building and authorized sale of 23 more properties. To further accelerate debt reduction, I support using $2 million of the fund balance directly for debt reduction.

Economic Development is a primary objective of this Board and the way we will support the future needs of Carroll County. I support using up to $2 million of one-time money for economic development infrastructure fund.

We must attract, motivate and retain the best staff. Carroll County is blessed with outstanding employees at all levels and in all departments, many are the best in the state at what they do. We must approve employee raises this year, the first since 2009. And if revenue does not allow for raises, we must use one-time funds for bonuses to make sure our employees do not lose ground.

I am proud of our pilot program to provide shuttle service to the VA hospital for veterans. We must fund continuation of this program. But our veterans have another need. Veterans are waiting up to three years for benefits to be approved. With only 15 service officers in Maryland, Carroll County gets 1 person once a month to assist veterans with applications. We can do better. Having met with Secretary Chow, Veterans Affairs will provide training and accreditation for a Veterans Services Officer for Carroll County, so I will ask our Board to fund this position.

Our Celebrating America program continues. Later this year we will launch “100 Keys to History” seeking private funds and using volunteer efforts to tell the story of American History at 100 locations throughout the county. It will be enhance our community, be a tool for educators and a destination for tourism. Later this month I will ask my colleagues to start this by dedicating our meeting room, 003, as the Ronald Reagan Boardroom. A permanent display could include pictures, artifacts and a letter he wrote to Carroll County on our 150th anniversary.

Education is the most important investment we make in the future of our county. It includes our schools, libraries and community college. Strong education drives home values, business growth, lowers crime and is our solemn commitment to the next generation. We must fund education this year at $164 million. If there are not sufficient revenues, we must fund at least $2 million over “maintenance of effort” and make up the difference with one-time funds that can be used for technology needs in this year’s school budget. If there is any remaining fund balance money after our other needs, including more money for roads, we should re-establish an ongoing fund for education technology.

Beyond funding, I will seek the support of my Board to ask the Board of Education to develop and implement plans (a) to bring civics and local history classes back into the curriculum, (b) to make each school a showplace of our American history and our heritage, (c) to use innovative ideas, technology and available space in the system to dramatically expand the capacity of Career & Tech programs without the addition of a new building and (d) to include a modernization or replacement of Charles Carroll Elementary School in our five year plan.

And so, I ask the citizens of Carroll County to support, and my colleagues to pursue a course to KEEP CARROLL COUNTY STRONG: strong financially, technically, patriotically; strong in public safety, infrastructure and education, and strong in a way that reflects our values and our commitment to our families, to our country and to God. It will not be easy, but it can be done. And why shouldn’t we believe that, after all we are Carroll Countians!   Thank you

If you would like to watch it click on the following link:

2013 State of the County

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