SNOW HILL – The top elected spot in Worcester County has a new face, with Commissioner Virgil Shockley taking over the presidency of the Board of Worcester County Commissioners from Commissioner Jim Purnell in a unanimous vote.
Purnell spent two years and two months in the post, taking over in late 2005 from Commissioner Sonny Bloxom.
The commissioners also unanimously re-elected Commissioner Louise Gulyas Vice President of the seven-commissioner body at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Always the bridesmaid, never the bride,” she quipped.
There was only one nominee for each position, and no discussion on either vote, both of which were quickly taken.
Purnell conducted the votes at the meeting, and when the results were in, swapped seats with Shockley and handed over the gavel.
“Good luck and God bless you,” Purnell said.
“On behalf of the commissioners, I’d like to take this moment to thank Commissioner Purnell for his many, many years of dedication to the county,” Shockley said.
The president of the County Commissioners sets agendas, runs meetings and directs policy for the county staff, among other things.
Shockley said this week he knows what he will pursue as president.
The comprehensive rezoning, which will complete the 2006 Worcester County Comprehensive Plan, will be finished by the end of this year, Shockley said.
The commissioners have been criticized in recent months for the slow pace of progress on the rezoning. The commissioners denied delaying the rezoning deliberately because 2006 was an election year, several saying instead that they wanted to wait until the election was over to make sure any new commissioners were part of the rezoning process.
Staffers were instructed to proceed with the work roughly a year ago, but the commissioners have yet to see a draft.
“My goal is to give instructions, get them on a timeframe, and say, I expect to have this [part] done by such and such, and have it done by December ’08,” Shockley said. “Whatever it takes to get there, we’re going to wrap this up this year.”
The comprehensive rezoning must go through several drafts and at least one public hearing before final approval.
The upcoming fiscal year 2009 budget is also on the agenda.
“It’s going to be a tough budget year,” said Shockley. “We’re going to have some tough decisions to make.”
The commissioners have said they will not raise taxes, despite anticipating deep cuts in state funding.
“We’ll survive. Things may get a little tight,” he said.
While Annapolis may make cuts, it’s the County Commissioners who see the effects on their people.
“We’re the last line of humanity,” Shockley said.
County employees will probably see only a modest cost of living increase, as well as step and longevity increases, said Shockley. Bond payments on school capital projects will take up most of the expected increase in tax revenue.
His job as president of the commissioners is to set the tone for the discussion, he said.
“Maybe I’m the right person at the right time, having survived the worst year in farming history in my life, and figured out how to keep afloat and the farm still running. It’s almost ironic you’ve got the same thing going on at the state level,” Shockley said.