County Executive Calvin Ball today announced that Howard County’s Spending Affordability Advisory Committee (SAAC) for FY 22) will convene earlier than usual to allow more time for the committee to digest, discuss, and offer constructive advice to the County amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SAAC is a non-partisan body charged with providing policy advice to the County Executive on fiscal planning. The committee — which is made up of several residents representing different disciplines and areas of expertise, as well as representatives from education entities, council staff, and executive staff — prepares a report with analysis and recommendations on:
- Projected General Fund revenues for the upcoming fiscal year;
- Recommended new county debt (General Obligation bonds) authorization;
- An analysis of the long-term fiscal outlook including multi-year projections; and
- Other findings and/or recommendations that the committee deems appropriate.
“I asked the SAAC to begin their conversations earlier this year to provide more time to prepare recommendations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Ball. “In these challenging times, we want to ensure we are constantly evaluating our fiscal position and are well prepared for the economic challenges that are inevitable in the current climate. There is no doubt that this virus has wreaked havoc on our global, national, and local economy, we want to ensure we have strategies in place to encourage a steady and strong recovery.”
According to a County press release:
The SAAC will likely have 10-12 meetings between November and February on operating budget needs, CIP budget needs, the current economy, revenue, long-term forecast and debt projections. The County’s first round of preliminary projections won’t be available until after critical data becomes available from the State.
“We look forward to working closely with this diversified and talented group,” said Holly Sun, Howard County Budget Administrator. “Data-informed analysis and constructive advice from this independent resident advisory body will assist us in making sound fiscal decisions amid all the challenges and uncertainties surrounding the economy.”
The fast and sizable first round of federal stimulus package has provided needed help to state and local government, albeit temporarily. However, the fundamental economy is still struggling. The Howard County unemployment rate of 5.2% in September, down from the peak of 8.1% in April, was still two times the pre-pandemic level. Moreover, significant uncertainties remain on the duration and severity of the pandemic as well as the timing and size of additional federal stimulus.
“I am excited to get to work on such an important task, with a great group of individuals,” said Steven Poynot, Vice Chair of the SAAC. “And I am grateful that the County has taken the advice of the previous SAAC and extended the timeframe for the meetings to allow for a deeper dive into our spending given the current environment.”