County Officials Critical Of Legislators For Pay Comments

OCEAN CITY – Wednesday’s
otherwise cordial meeting between the resort’s Economic Development Committee
(EDC) members and their representatives in Annapolis briefly veered off topic
for a few moments with a brief exchange that was, at the same time, tense and
humorous.

The EDC on Wednesday
welcomed State Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus, Delegates Norm Conway and Page Elmore and
Ocean City Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Dennis Rasmussen to its bi-annual
legislative meeting, during which the state elected officials brief the local
business community on important issues upcoming in Annapolis. The discussion ranged from slots
to another difficult budget year in the capital, but one of the more
interesting moments in the meeting came when two County Commissioners, Judy
Boggs and Louise Gulyas, took exception to the implied notion that the
counties, including Worcester, were better situated financially and more
prepared to withstand budget cuts from the state

Stoltzfus rattled the
commissioners’ cages when he suggested Worcester
continues to expand its budget, even in difficult economic times, while the
state is struggling with what will likely be a half-a-billion dollar deficit.

“There is great
disparity even in this district,” he said. “Wicomico has a 2-percent spending
cap, Somerset doesn’t have any money, and Worcester has increased
its annual budget by an average of 18 percent a year. That’s the largest
average yearly increase in Maryland.”

However, Boggs stood up
and pointed out Worcester
is no better off financially than the state or other counties, but has been
able to weather storms easier because of careful fiscal planning.

“I think there is this
misconception that the counties are flush with cash,” she said. “That’s simply
not true. We’ve just been able to better manage our money because we’re
fiscally conservative.”

When Conway said the state needed to cut spending
to maintain its AAA bond rating, Boggs pointed out the counties are in the same
boat, but are challenged further by a mandate to keep 10 percent of its budget
in reserve.

“What I’ve heard this
morning is that the state has a nearly perfect AAA bond rating and that’s
great, but the state has to keep 5 percent in reserve to maintain its bond
rating, while the counties have to keep 10 percent in reserve,” she said.
“We’ve been able to do that by being frugal and conservative.”

Elmore said part of the
misconception that the counties are flush with cash comes from the steadily
increasing paychecks for many county employees, a luxury the state cannot
afford.

“The counties are giving
big raises to their employees, but the state employees are not getting those,”
he said. “Everywhere I go, I’m hearing from our state employees that they
aren’t getting the same pay increases that the counties are paying.”

Boggs took exception to
the notion the counties, including Worcester,
were frivolous with their pay structure, suggesting to the assembled state
legislators they should take a page out of the county’s book when it comes to
fiscal management.

“We in Worcester prioritize our employees,” she
said. “We are able to do that by being conservative in other areas.”

Gulyas took it a step
further, calling out the local delegation on the issue, much to the delight of
the assembled EDC members.

“I take offense when the
state says we pay too much for our employees,” she said. “What I’m hearing is
that the state hasn’t been able to pay its employees at the same rate as some
of the counties. Well, that’s not our problem, that’s your problem.”

The tension created by
the brief exchange between the state lawmakers and the two county commissioners
was broken by Gulyas, who was somewhat riled up by the discussion.

“Now I need a cigarette,
and I don’t even smoke,” she said.

 

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