Property and Income taxes account for 90% of total revenues in the General Fund, which supports most services in the County, including the school system, community college, the library system, and all County agencies. Some taxes, such as the transfer and fire tax, are primarily designated to restricted funds with specific purposes.
Area #2 is currently being re-assessed in calendar 2020. Area #3 will be re-assessed in calendar 2021, followed by Area #1 in calendar 2022. For more information about Assessment Districts, see the Department of Assessments & Taxation website.
The County does not perform assessments. All assessments are performed by the Maryland Department of Assessment & Taxation. The County uses the State assessment data for property tax billing purposes.
The operating budget provides funding and appropriation for the day-to-day operation of all County public services provided to residents and businesses. This includes: annual County appropriation to education entities including Howard County Public School System (HCPSSS); funding to County employee salaries and benefits, contractual services, and supplies and equipment for providing various daily services; and principal and interest payments for existing and new loans borrowed to finance public infrastructure (capital projects).
The capital budget provides funding and appropriation for the construction or acquisition of physical assets and covers many different projects, from construction of schools and libraries and roads to renovations of recreation centers and bridges. Capital projects are primarily funded through issuing debt, typically 20-year General Obligation bonds, with annual principal and interest payments paid from the operating budget (similar to a home mortgage).
The General Fund accounts for about 67% of the total FY 2020 operating budget. It is the principal operating fund for the County and is used to fund most County services such as education, public safety, public facilities and health and human services.
The Restricted Funds account for about 33% of the FY 2020 operating budget. These individual funds are legally restricted to spending for special purposes, such as providing water and sewer, fire, and trash collection services. Funding in the restricted funds cannot be used for other purposes.
General Fund expenditures in FY2020 are appropriated as follows:
*HCPSS accounts for 58% of total County General Fund (52% direct appropriation; 6% school debt payment & retiree health benefits); Howard Community College accounts for 4% of total County General Fund; and Howard County Library System accounts for 2% of total County General Fund.
HCPSS is a separate and independent entity established by State law and governed by an elected Board of Education (BOE). HCPSS budget is funded by County, State, federal and school-own sources. The County decides the level of County funding to HCPSS budget. The BOE decides how to spend the available funding from all sources, by individual categories, programs and line items.
In FY 2020, the BOE requested an increase of $100 million in County funding. The request nearly tripled the $36.5 million in total County General Fund FY 2020 revenue growth available for all County services. To fully fund this request would require significant tax increases or significant service reductions to the community.
The County is still in early the stage of developing its FY 2021 budget. The BOE approved FY 2021 budget request of $50 million growth in County funding again exceeds total projected County total revenue growth for services of the entire County.
The County continues to show a positive revenue growth rather than a revenue decrease. However, its revenues have featured a moderate growth or slower growth in recent years, due to both national economic environment and gradual evolution in local landscapes, such as an aging population and a net income loss between people moving out and moving into the County.
As a result, County General Fund operating budget actual (audited) revenue growth has averaged less than 3% ($24 million growth) per year in the last three years to support all services of the County. Expenditure requests from all entities, however, continue to rise and significantly exceed funding capacity.
A significant gap exists for the capital budget as well. Using both FY 2020 and FY 2021 as examples, total funding requests received for infrastructure projects in the next six years are 2-3 times of resources available. In other words, more than 50% of the requests for public infrastructure projects in the next six years will have to be reduced or delayed by multiple years.
County funding to HCPSS has never been reduced from funding provided in the prior year. FY 2020 County funding growth was the 2nd highest in the past decade. Even so, FY 2020 approved County funding to HCPSS was lower than BOE requested County funding, because the request was unaffordable at almost three times the total County revenue growth.
More details on school budget can be found here.