County scolds Crofton over budget

Civic Association board wrestles with problem of explaining 2000 budget

January 05, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Crofton budget wrangling has again caught the attention of county officials, who have issued another reprimand to the Civic Association board.

Carolyn Kirby, the special taxing district coordinator, sent a letter to association President Gayle Sears last week admonishing the association for its decision not to ask residents to vote Monday on an adjusted current-year spending plan that exceeded by $324,000 what the County Council and residents approved last year.

The association board is preparing to present its fiscal 2001 budget at a general membership meeting Monday at 7: 30 p.m. at Crofton Elementary School.

Kirby said the association's decision on the fiscal 2000 budget conflicts with special tax district bylaws, which say residents must vote to approve a budget that is larger than the previous year's.

Residents did not vote on the fiscal 2000 spending plan of $600,849, which was presented last January, because it was slightly lower than the fiscal 1999 budget. Because of new budget regulations, a revised plan for 2000 includes nearly $30,000 more in expenditures -- money taken from reserves to buy a new maintenance truck and a police cruiser -- and nearly $295,000 in reserve funds that are required to be shown in the budget totals.

"To construe that the Directors may approve an increase in the budget without obtaining the approval of the property owners would evade the clear intent of the bylaws," Kirby wrote in the Dec. 27 letter. "When the County Council approves the appropriation for the Crofton Special Community Benefit District, they are, in essence, requiring that the administration of the funds be accomplished in accordance with the charter and bylaws that govern how your association operates."

Treasurer John Conant said the board was not trying to deceive residents, but instead to protect them from another problem. Abiding strictly by the bylaws "would mean we didn't need to vote on 2001 [budget], despite the fact that the real expense was going up," Conant said.

Before the new regulations, only expenditures have been presented to Crofton residents as their budget. Reserve funds have never been reported. Because of the new regulations requiring the combination of expenses and reserve funds, a $925,139 fiscal 2000 spending plan exceeds the $600,849 in expenditures originally approved. Even in the more costly plan, expenses remain the same except for the vehicle purchases.

The 2001 budget, at $917,042, is smaller than the previous year's, but the expenses, at $638,680, rise $38,000 because of a hefty draw from reserve accounts.

"I think it would be coy and deceptive to vote on this fluffed number of $925,000," Conant said. "Do you want to increase true and real expenditures from $600,000 to $638,000 [in 2001]? That's what I wanted to have presented to the community."

Conant also said he feared that if the community rejected the 2000 budget, Crofton's funding -- including reserve funds -- would be cut by the county back to $600,849. Kirby said that would not happen.

"That would be unreasonable," she said. But the money already spent on the maintenance truck would have to come from the approved expenses side, from a line item -- such as the salary for a police position that has not been filled -- and the police cruiser would have to wait until after July, she said, when the 2001 budget cycle begins.

Crofton Civic Association board members have been bogged down in this year's budget process by the requirements from the county budget office and from Jerome Klasmeier, the county's chief administrative officer. The often bickering board members have complained publicly that they were being micromanaged by county officials.

Regulations issued in October 1998 by the budget office required all of the special taxing districts to fully disclose reserve funds in their budgets. Crofton, which in 1998 was planning the fiscal 2000 budget, did not, and residents approved a $600,849 spending plan for fiscal 2000. Earlier this year, the budget office and Klasmeier ordered the board to resubmit its fiscal 2000 budget, allowing it until this month, when the 2001 budget is due.

In the meantime, a maintenance truck gave out unexpectedly, forcing the board to approve spending money from a reserve account to buy a new one. And just before board members approved a revised 2000 budget in November with reserve funds included, they decided to buy a police cruiser, for which the community had also been saving. The two vehicles cost about $30,000, which is shown as an expense in the revised plans.

Ordinarily, such changes would require only a revision submitted to the county budget office, Kirby said. But because the board never showed its reserves to residents last January, and the purchases push the expenditures far higher than the previous year's, they require a community vote, Kirby said.

"There are very few specifics about the budget process, but the county code does say you must present the budget to your residents and you must follow your bylaws," Kirby said. "They never showed that they were planning to buy two vehicles. They never showed it to residents and they never showed it to the County Council."

Sears said she did not agree with the board's decision to not call for a vote on the fiscal 2000 budget, but the county's late action might cause another delay in the voting process. Because the community newsletter that went out last week to notify residents of the coming vote did not mention that residents would be casting ballots on the 2000 and 2001 budgets, as required by community bylaws, the vote on the current budget could be challenged, she said.

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