County Hears Budget Concerns At Meeting

SNOW
HILL – Although the majority of the speakers stood up for the Board of
Education budget, the annual Worcester County budget hearing on Tuesday night
attracted a handful of comments in other areas.

A
specific invitation did not elicit any comments on the constant yield tax rate,
which is the rate necessary to generate the same amount of revenue as last
year.

The
current property tax rate, the second lowest in the state, is 70 cents per $100

of assessed value. The constant yield rate would be 60.5 cents.             Keeping the current rate would

generate $14.8 million in additional revenue, said county Administrator Gerry
Mason.

The
County Commissioners face a $23.5 million difference between funding requests
and projected revenues.

Carol
Krimm, who a non-resident property owner in Ocean City, asked the commissioners
to consider establishing a property tax set off, like 17 other counties in
Maryland. Non-resident Ocean City taxpayers carry the burden of resort and
county revenue, she said.

When
properties are reassessed every three years, resident homeowners are protected
by the homestead tax credit, which greatly limits the increase in their tax
bills. Non-resident property owners pay tax on the full, reassessed value,
however.

“I’m
asking for a tax set off for the property tax payers of Ocean City because we
pay for a duplication of services,” Krimm said.

According
to Mason, 78 percent of the county property owners are non-resident.

Ellie
Diegelmann cautioned the commissioners against duplication of services, urging
that staff be cross-trained, to cut down on expenditures. She also said the
county should require departments to document their need for the funds they
request and that the county should obtain the Maryland Association of Counties
budget directive, which lists specific percentages of the budget for each
county department.

The
county should also consider transferring teachers between schools, instead of
hiring new ones, simulcasting specialty lessons, and teleconferencing,
according to Diegelmann,

Also
garnering some attention at the hearing was social services.

Leigh
Sandifer, executive director of the Agape project, a Christian ministry in
Berlin which focuses on the needs of single mothers, asked the commissioners to
consider the organization’s request for financial assistance for the Door of
Hope program. The initiative, she said, will provide mental, emotional,
educational, financial and spiritual counseling to clientele.

Agape
has been focusing on physical needs, from clothing to food to diapers, and now
wants to expand its services.

“We
want to step in and round out that picture,” Sandifer said.

Theresa
Fields, executive director of Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services
(WYFCS), said that mental health and well being issues are “an emerging crisis”
in the nation and locally. WYFCS needs assistance to continue to offer programs
from sliding scale counseling services, to working with teenaged girls.

The
organization also runs the CASA program, which provides trained advocates for
neglected and abused children caught up in the court system.

The
biggest burden, she said, is trying to keep the organization’s head above water
while still helping people.

Worcester
County Developmental Center (WCDC), which is the only organization in the
county providing services to disabled adults, made a plea during the hearing.

“Please
fully fund our budget request,” said June Walker, executive director of the
WCDC.

WCDC
maintains several homes and apartments for disabled adults around the county
and also provides a day program, employment training, and other services.

“Our
family is so happy to have John closer to us,” said Dot Graves, whose brother
has lived in a WCDC house for five years. “He is very happy here.”

Another
topic was the Germantown School restoration project, which needs some help
matching a grant, said Barbara Purnell.

“Unless
we match the [grant], the money is going to be lost,” she said. “If the match
is not made we can’t begin our restoration.”

Supporters have held
golf tournaments, dinners, yard sales, and dinner theaters, to raise over
$5,000, but they need another $45,000 to meet their goal. 

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