Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Growth of the Howard County Government.

Posted by Ed C on Monday, May 28, 2007

The Howard County council recently passed the $1,325,331,673 operating budget proposed by Ken Ulman virtually unchanged. This budget expands the budget by 10.7% and adds 517 new positions. Since 2004 (the first year I could find budget numbers) the Howard County budget has increased by more than 37%. According to the Maryland State Archives, the population for Howard County is projected to increase by just 15.7% from 247842 in 2000 to 294,000 in 2010.

HoCo Budget and Population Growth


13 Responses to “Growth of the Howard County Government.”

  1. Public Servant said

    It’s always interesting to see how someone will paint how a budget looks. Ed C paints a picture that makes County Executive Ulman look like he has expanded government without any reason behind it. Lets take a brief look where the new positions are going:

    General Government will increase by 140 positions. This includes a much needed boost to public safety.

    * Police 32 sworn and 7 civilian postions including 3 for the 911 center
    * 39 fire fighers (21 full funded and 18 partial funded for FY’08) and 4 civilians
    * Sheriff’s Office 4 postions (deputies and civilian)
    * Correction 3 positions
    * State’s Attorney Office 1 additional attorney
    * Circuit Court 2 admin positions

    The remaining 48 positions would go to staff other county department’s such as Parks and Recs, Citizens Services, County Administration, DPW and so on. Like public safety, these department’s provide much need services to the public and must also be staffed to ensure they carry out their jobs in an efficient manner.

    Board of Education will add 341 positions. Some of the position will go to adminstrative needs while the bulk of of the positions will go towards hiring teachers and related support personnel. Some of the reasons for the 341 personnel are:

    * Final implementation of All Day Kindergarten (State mandated)
    * Final full staffing of Marriotts Ridge H.S. (phased in over 3 yrs)
    * Staffing of new Ellicott City elementary school
    * Staffing needs of existing schools

    Other Agencies/Departments funded (full or partial) by the County:

    This group includes the Library, Community College, Health Department amd Economic Development. These agencies will receive 37 new positions with the college receiving 27 (15 for teachers) of those positions.

    Some time back I wrote a reply to a post about the increase in government spending under the Robey Admistration. In that I spoke about the cutbacks of the 1990’s in government services due to the reccession and how it affected government services.

    While some people hailed the Ecker Administration as being a fiscally sound government, we the workers carried the burden of those reductions through positions being cut, people laidoff, salaries and benefits artifically held down and capital needs not being meet.

    To put it another way, The Ecker Admistration not only cut what little “fat” there may have been government, he cut to the bone and than through it. And when he had the opportunity to reverse some of the cuts, he opted to pass it onto future administrations.

    Side note – While the Ecker Admistration was cutting and holding down spending, the county population continued to grow with no cooresponding growth in government services.

    Along comes the Robey Admistration. This admistration was forced to address many areas damaged by the Ecker polices. Salaries and benefits, staffing, capital needs such as equipment replacement, building renovations and expansion all needed to be addressed.

    The Robey Admistration took several baby steps in their first few years to try and address these issues. Some progress was being made until the downturn in the market in the early 2000’s. When the market rebounded, the admistration again made some improvements and progress. Robey’s efforts did not address all the problems left behind from the prior admistration, but progess was being made one small step at a time.

    Along comes the Ulman Admistration. This admistration was now saddled with not only the issues leftover from the Ecker and Robey Admistrations, but new and existing mandates and responsibilities that need to be implemented in order to respond to the growth and demands for services from the citizens.

    Given where this county should be in terms of serices, the Ulman Admistration has taken a reasonable step, not a baby step or a gaint step, but a nice and reasonable step forward to begin closing the gap in services/growth before it becomes so big that it can never be reduced or closed.

    Who knows where future budgets will take us. If the economy stays health, perhaps Ulman can put the county back on track and not pass down service deficits as the prior admistrations have done.

    If the economy turns south, than Ulman will have to make tough budget decisions and perhaps pass down service deficits to future admistrations.

    We will just have to wait and see what happens.

    This is only the second time I have ever responded to a blog. I enjoy reading the positions people take on issues, and in some cases the points and counter points people offer are very thought provoking.

    I offer this perspective as an employee who has had to watch this county struggle to meet the demands of the citizens over the last 16 years. As well employees struggling to keep their heads above the water while providing services to the citizens.

    A Public Servant

  2. Freemarket said

    Public servant has an interesting point of view. However, the notion of “where the County should be in terms of services” is highly subjective. If government services greatly impact our quality of life, and they were cut to an unreasonable level during the Ecker administration, and held low during the Robey administration, how is it possible that Columbia/Ellicott City is one of the top four places to live? It seems to me that the size of the County government is not as relevant to our quality of life as most folks would like to believe.

  3. jim adams said

    I agree Freemarket.

    I would go one step more.

    I think we should take a look at ALL services, and determine if they are still of value. We should determine if they are doing as orginally desired, are they providing service to the county, are they giving us the dollar value we want.

    I think we should also look at the laws on the county books and see if there are any unnessary laws that should be removed.

    Also we should use zero base budgeting, so that all of the departments of our government reevaluate their financial needs.

    Of course this means a lot of work, it means finding some group of objective individuals that will make reasonable and honest decisions, and most importantly individuals who would be strong enough leaders to comitt themselves to this project, even if it were to cost them their political careers.

    Quess I am just day dreaming.

  4. JA and FM, I agree with you both.

    PS – as long as the local government can meet basic and necessary services I don’t mind growth. However, being a public servent (thank you for your contribution) have you ever seen a program outlive its usefullness and then go away or are they perpetual? Just curious.

    Instead of a new department of the enviroment why not a department or commission dedicated to evaluating the value and usefullness of County Government programs and services or at least evaluate their effectiveness.

  5. Ecker was the Best! said

    I couldn’t disagree more with the criticisms of Ecker. Need one be reminded of what a poor job Liz Bobo did in terms of controlling the Howard County budget. Bobo spent money like it was going out of style, but Ecker won on a platform of fiscal responsibility. And he delivered. Big time.

    If you don’t recall this, go back and read articles about that time period.

    While I don’t doubt that it was a difficult period to be a government employee, Ecker acted with the best interests of the entire county. Ecker got Howard County into the good shape it is in now. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.

  6. Ecker was the Best! said

    I forgot to share this Examiner editorial, which shows that Ho Co didn’t respond to a public information request about salaries in the county.

    I wonder why not?

  7. Public Servant said

    To answer Mr Keelan and Mr Adams, yes I have seen existing programs re-evaluated and either eliminated or adjusted to meet the current needs of the county. And yes I have seen programs that are perpetual and may never go away due to political pressure. But change does happen more frequently than people are aware of. Some are small and not noticable while others more direct and noticable.

    I have to disagree with what “Ecker Was The Best” had to say. Most of Ecker’s fiscal changes were the result of the recession in the 1990’s, not his ability to be fiscally responsible and plan for the future needs of the citizens or government. I will stick by my earlier statement that Dr Ecker not only cut what little fat there may have been in government at that time, he cut through the bone. And when the economy allowed him to start reversing some of his policy decisions, he opted to pass those decision onto the next administration.

    Shortly after leaving as county executive Dr Ecker was hired as the Superintendent of the Carroll County Schools. I recall reading an article about the budget increases Dr Ecker was requesting for the Carroll school system. The Commissioners of Carroll County were not pleased with his budget requests and had trouble understanding how he could keep budgets and growth down in Howard County and now he was requesting significant budget increases in their County. It made no sense to them.

    I found it ironic that the fiscally responsible Dr Ecker in Howard County was not considered fiscally responsible in Carroll County.

  8. PS. As I understand it Dr. Ecker is still loved in Carroll County and is still employed as School Sup for what? Going on 9 or 10 years? It is one thing to run an entire County and feed all the hungry mouths. It is quite another to be one of the hungry mouths.

    Mr. Ecker had the recession going for him alright. You may think it forced it hand in holding the line on spending – I agree that it did. However, he could have raised taxes paid everyone what they wanted and gone the easy route but he didn’t. He forced Government to tighten it’s belt and suck it in for a few years – good for him.

    Now, Mr. Robey did raise taxes and fees 6 times in 8 years and he didn’t need to – the recession was over. The County has been running surpluses since 2003/2004. No Government should run surpluses or deficits. Ecker ran neither. Robey has run consecutive surpluses. Having surpluses is not the hallmark of good stewardship. That is poor budget planning. So what happens when Robey or Ulman have a budget surplus in the previous fiscal year?

    1. They cut taxes in order to return those surpluses to the people they belong to and keep government within its limits. or,

    2. They increase the budget by over 10% year after year, add new programs, and add more people to the payroll thus increasing operating and capital budgets for future years, as well as increasing liabilities for pension and post retirement benefits which stresses the County’s credit rating.

  9. Public Servant said

    Yes Dr Ecker is loved by the education community in Carroll County and will remain their superintendent for as long as he wants that position. But that still does not negate the first few budgets in which the county commissioners were not happy to see the increases he proposed.

    You talk about Robey raising taxes during his eight years. Lets look at Dr Ecker’s record.

    1. Dr Ecker requested one of the largest general tax increases in County history during his 1st year in office by asking the county council to repeal a tax reduction the council had approved the year before, which the council approved at his urging.

    2. Raised all county fees and implemented new fees for service throughout his tenure.

    3. Implemented the “Trash Tax.”

    4. Increased the “Fire Taxes.”

    5. Implemented the “Rainy Day Fund.” This fund was started with budget surpluses that Ecker ran each year. They may have been smaller than todays surpluses, but they did exist during the reccession. Today the fund is still partially funded by budget surpluses and normal budgeting methods. I don’t recall Dr Ecker ever cutting taxes or fees when we were running surpluses.

    6. Cut services, personnel and held down salary and benefits of employees. But yet employees were given the chance to work overtime (most departments) to make up for salary losses and to staff needed services.

    As a kid I recall a TV commercial that had the saying “You can pay me now, Or you can pay me later.” Dr Ecker would not pay at that time and the bill is now due. Robey took baby steps to pay the bill and Ulman is now taking a reasonable step to continue paying Ecker’s bills.

    With regards to the credit ratings, the county has always had good to excellent ratings for as long as I can remember. Even with the budget increases these same companies found the increases to be reasonable given the services the citizens expect. If the county was out-of-line I’m sure the bond rating companies would have made an issue of it and possible reduced our bond ratings.

    With regards to liabilities, the pension system is in very good condition and continues to shrink every year. One plan is apprormately 70% funded (after only 17yrs of its 30yr funding cycle) and the other was 100% funded the day it started 12-15 years ago.

    The new GASB 45 rule now requires governments to show how they fund other post retirement benefits in a fashion similiar to pensions. Instead of paying for these benefits from the pay-as-you-go fund, you must now calculate these benefits for future years and show how you will pay these future benefits (similiar to pension funding methods).

    The bond rating companies have not been overly concerned about the GASB 45 changes. These liabilities have always existed. The method in which they are funded has been the issue with GASB.

    The bond rating companies concern in this area has been has the affected government recoginized the issue and if so what type of plan do they have in place to deal with it.

    Howard County has been on top of this issue. Robey formed a countywide task force to make recommendations on how best to handle this issue. The report is posted on the county’s website and will most likely be the guiding document in this matter.

    This has more than adequately satisfied the bond rating companies question.

    So there has been no stress on the county’s bond rating.

    I’m just a public servant who has the opportunity to see the internal workings of county goverment on a daily basis and can provide a different point of view.

  10. observer said

    Ulman could add one thousand more county employees to the payroll and I probably wouldn’t notice any substantial increase in public services until the next election day when they are all out at the polls wearing their appropriate T-shirts, teachers for Ulman, fire fighters for Ulman etc. Its nice to know my tax dollars are hard at work buying votes for Ulman’s political career.

  11. timactual said

    ” Most of Ecker’s fiscal changes were the result of the recession in the 1990’s, not his ability to be fiscally responsible and plan for the future needs of the citizens or government.”

    This puzzles me a bit. Are you saying he was not being fiscally responsible when he made cuts that were, as you imply, made necessary by a recession? It seems to me that it would have been irresponsible, if not illegal, NOT to have cut spending. As for planning for future needs, perhaps his plan was to avoid bankruptcy.

  12. Public Servant said

    Puzzles’ you?

    If an executive does not plan for the future how does a business grow and/or maintain their services. Even companies in bankruptcy must show that they can recover and return to a level of profitability or service that will meet consumer demands. Bankruptcy courts will not allow a business to just exist without a recovery plan. And if the business can not show a recovery plan, than the business closes up shop and the consumers are on their own.

    Dr Ecker failed to provide any future recovery plans and left those decisions to the next county executive(s). To me that is being irresponsible.

  13. General Zod said

    Why did Ken Ulman meet with Gov. O’Malley discussing the states fiscal dispair when he intends on spending more money? For example, The Department of the Enivironment? He is nothing more than a tax and spend liberal. I wouldn’t even consider him a Democrat.

    The only reason the fire, police and teachers support Ulman is because he has to tolerate their unions. If they did not have a union it would be a different story. Ulman values one thing and that is his image and ego.

    Ulman’s administration and the county council cannot provide a livable wage for the general employees they have now. He loves to go around bragging how Howard is one of the richest counties in the nation but his actions speak otherwise.

    Why does he find it necessary to add worthless departments which will benefit his friends more than the community? He is essentially creating a position for his assistants husband.

    What troubles me is that no one is calling him on it.

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