April 14 – Frederick County executive Jessica Fitzwater released an $894 million budget proposal on Friday, including an increase in the income tax rate for residents with the highest incomes and increased investment in emergency services.
The proposed fiscal year 2024 budget is just over $100 million more than this year’s approved budget — an increase of 12.8%. The largest allocation is for the provincial school system.
Under the proposal, single-status petitioners with taxable income over $100,000 would receive an income tax rate of 3.2% compared to the current rate of 2.96%
The same increase applies to joint filers with more than $200,000 in taxable income.
Those earning less than $25,000 per year, whether as a single status petitioner or a joint petitioner, would receive a rate of 2.25%.
County residents with taxable income between $25,000 and $100,000 for individual filers, or between $25,000 and $200,000 for joint filers, would receive a tax rate of between 2.75% and 2.96%.
In an interview following the release of the budget, Fitzwater said the cut for county residents in the lowest income bracket will help working families struggling to make ends meet.
“This targeted tax relief for the families that need it most will make a real difference to [those families] and fixed-income seniors,” Fitzwater said.
The increase, Fitzwater said, would be in line with the state’s maximum county tax rate, currently used by 11 Maryland counties.
Property tax rates would remain the same as this year at $1.06 per $100 of assessed value.
Fitzwater proposed to allocate approximately $405 million to the Frederick County Board of Education. That’s an increase of about 11% from this fiscal year, and about $35 million more than the law requires, but still $48 million less than what the board asked for.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat it,” said the vice president of the school board, Dean Rose, in an interview Friday. “It’s not what we hoped for.”
Assuming the allocation doesn’t change as the County Council considers Fitzwater’s proposal — and assuming the final state funding numbers come close to what Frederick County Public Schools predicts they will be — the school board will pay about $48 million have to cut from the planned 2024 budget of $939 million.
“We have hard work to do in the coming months,” said Rose.
The school board’s planned budget currently includes a $35 million pool for salary increases of approximately 7% for all benefited FCPS employees.
It also includes funding to accommodate the continued growth of the system. FCPS is by far the fastest growing public school system in the state and expects to add about 1,200 new students next year.
Inflationary costs account for about $24 million in the district’s current spending plan, and more than $10 million is earmarked for improving special education services.
Fitzwater said her allocation for the Board of Education was as much as she could responsibly budget for. She said it was an annual challenge for the executive office to meet the school board’s funding requests, though she understands the importance of the request.
“It should come as no surprise to people that investing in our students in schools as an educator is one of my top priorities,” says Fitzwater, who taught music at Oakdale Elementary School for 17 years.
Fitzwater also said the revenue from an income tax increase would go toward future funding for county schools and helped narrow the gap between the funds requested by the school board and what her office ultimately proposed.
The budget proposal includes a 5% cost-of-living adjustment for non-union employees in the province and would add nearly 120 new full-time jobs across all provincial departments.
Half of those new positions are concentrated in the county’s Emergency Management Department and Fire and Rescue Department.
Together, those departments received more than $100 million in Fitzwater’s proposal. Emergency Management received a 21.3% increase over this year’s budget and Fire and Rescue received an 18.4% increase.
Emergency Management would gain 24 new positions, mostly 911 calltakers and administrative staff.
The division would also receive $3 million in funding to renovate and convert part of the Prospect Center building on Himes Avenue into a new 911 call center.
Part of the funding for Emergency Management will come from an increase in the 911 fees tacked onto county residents’ phone bills, both mobile and landline, from 75 cents per phone line to $2.25.
Fire & Rescue would have an additional 42 positions, mainly firefighters and a new medical unit.
Other allocations in the proposed budget, such as funding for a new Brunswick Senior Center and a new library in west Frederick, were prompted in part by comments from residents during county budget hearings, Fitzwater said.
“We worked hard to budget suggestions that came from all those listening sessions, and tried to highlight those in our budget message in the budget book,” Fitzwater said. “I think this budget is an investment in people.”
The budget allocates $1.26 million in architectural and engineering funds for the Westside Library, with additional investments mapped for fiscal year 2026 in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan.
Frederick County Council has until May 31, according to the county charter, to approve or amend the budget. It can remove line items from all budget categories except education.
If the council does not approve a budget by at least four of its seven members by the end of May, Fitzwater’s budget will go into effect as proposed.
The council will hold a budget hearing at Winchester Hall on April 25 at 7 p.m.
The budget book is available online at https://www.frederickcountymd.gov/66/Budget-Office