Howard County operates on a July 1 - June 30 fiscal year. By Charter, the County is required to have a balanced budget.
The County budget is the plan that identifies the sources of County revenue and establishes the ways those County funds may be expended. The budget consists of legislation to enact the operating budget and the capital budget, which are described below, as well as several related bills and resolutions. The County's budget includes all taxes, fees, and other revenue sources for the County and some affiliated agencies. Expenditures may be made only as the budget allows.
The County budget has two parts: capital and operating.
The capital budget deals mainly with structures that have long useful lifespans like buildings, bridges, roads, and parks. The capital budget may also include the furniture, equipment, and supplies that are needed to start up operations at a new facility. The projects in the capital budget are sometimes paid for with current revenues called PAYGO (Pay As You Go). Sometimes projects have special funding sources, for example the fire tax or state open space money, and sometimes projects are paid for with borrowed money, generally bonds including general obligation bonds (GO Bonds). Often a project will have a mix of funding sources.
The county operating budget covers the day to day activities of the county (and related agencies). It includes, for example, salaries, the cost of supplies and services, rent, bond and loan repayments, grants to the County's partners, and employee benefits. It is mostly paid for with tax money, derived mainly from the property tax and the local income tax. Most of the money covered by the operating budget is in the General Fund, but the budget also contains a variety of special funds, for example the Shared Septic Systems Fund and the Water and Sewer Operating Fund, all of which have special sources of revenue and are used for restricted purposes.
THE BUDGET PROCESS
Each year, the County Executive presents a proposed budget for the following fiscal year to the County Council. The Council may decrease proposed expenditures, but may not increase them or change the form of the budget. The Council adopts a budget each year on or before the first day of June.
The budget development process begins with revenue projections for the County for the upcoming fiscal year. These revenue estimates will determine how much money is available to provide government services, including education, public safety, public facilities, community services and other functions of government.
In February, the Planning Board reviews the proposed capital program and any new or substantially changed capital project. The Planning Board prepares comments and recommendations regarding the impact of the proposed capital program on the County’s General Plan and the growth of the County and submits those comments and recommendations to the County Executive with a copy to the County Council.
In April, the County Executive submits the proposed capital and operating budgets to the County Council for its consideration. The Council will hold a number of special public hearings and work sessions to review the proposed budget. Click here for the Council Budget Calendar.
Before submitting the proposed budget to the County Council, the County Executive holds public hearings at which residents may express their budget priorities. For the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, the County Executive held his first budget hearing on Monday, December 11, 2017. Click here to view meeting. His second budget hearing was on Thursday, March 8, 2018. Click here to view meeting.