County Requires Departments To Cut Budgets By 2%

SNOW HILL – A 2-percent cut
across the board and a ban on hiring should help Worcester
County ride out the economic
turbulence arising from the $432 million state of Maryland shortfall, county elected officials
hope.

County Administrator Gerry Mason
recommended on Tuesday that the County Commissioners enact a hiring freeze on
all departments but public safety, including police, emergency services, and
the county jail, and to instruct department heads to reduce spending by 2
percent.

“We would have a better handle
on our own revenues and would probably have better insight into state of Maryland cuts,” Mason
said.

Mason pointed out that the state
will not only be cutting funding, but will be shifting responsibility for
funding some departments and programs further onto county shoulders.

Worcester County has already
stepped in to increase county funding to the local branch of the state Health
Department this fiscal year after the state slashed funding, and the state
could require the county to take further financial responsibility, as much as
$1 million more.

“There are a number of things
being discussed in Annapolis
which are going to affect us dramatically,” Mason said. “School teacher
retirement, we may very well get saddled with that and we are talking millions
of dollars.”

The commissioners strongly
supported the recommended restrictions.

“I agree with a hiring freeze. I
think we should, except for essential personnel,” said Commissioner Louise
Gulyas.

“It’s more prudent for us to be
proactive,” Commissioner Judy Boggs said.

“It’s a very, very smart move.
We need to get ahead of the curve,” said Commissioner Bud Church.

Commissioner Linda Busick
concurred, adding, “If we expect it for all the departments, we should expect
it of the commissioners as well.”

The commissioners need to leave
some flexibility in the freeze, Boggs warned, to replace key personnel such as
department heads or specialized workers.

The commissioners can revisit
any issue, Mason said.

The vote to approve the Worcester County government hiring freeze was
unanimous.

Elected officials also supported
2-percent cuts in all departments to cushion the blow if the Maryland General
Assembly hands out cuts or imposes further financial obligations this spring.
Those changes could take effect before the next fiscal year.

The county cuts are not intended
as a cushion for the next fiscal year, said Commission President Virgil
Shockley.

The cuts will effect all
departments or agencies funded by Worcester
County, including the
Board of Education, library and health department.

The commissioners approved the
reduction unanimously.

Gulyas pushed to require
departments and agencies, including the commissioners, to axe out-of-state travel,
over and above the 2-percent cut just approved.

“Out-of-state travel has to be
cut. I expect all the department heads to look at this seriously,” Gulyas said.

Commissioner Bobby Cowger raised
the question of personnel who must travel for certification. Most certification
courses are held in state, but the commissioners will consider out-of-state
travel requests as they arise.

Boggs questioned whether travel
should be reduced as part of the 2-percent reduction, saying that she suspects
that travel is a small part of most departmental budgets.

“I think the travel is, I hate
to use this word, the fluff,” Gulyas said. She added, “It’s going to hurt no
matter what we do.”

“I don’t disagree. I think
travel should be cut,” Boggs said, adding that she just wanted to be sure
everyone considered the further impact of travel cost cuts.

“Times are tight. They’re going
to have to get tough,” Gulyas said.

The commissioners voted to
eliminate out-of-state travel, except on a case-by-case basis for
certification.

“We don’t get to go to the
hurricane conference unless you pay your own way,” Shockley said.

“These two things are nice but
they’re only a small part,” said Cowger.

The commissioners will have a
hard time going out there next year and will have to consider raising taxes if
they have not taken a hard look at overall operations, Cowger said.

How could anyone even think
about raising taxes on people who are suffering so much economically?, Gulyas
asked.

“Don’t want to raise taxes.
Don’t want to raise piggyback taxes. Don’t want to raise the homestead tax
credit,” said Gulyas. “We’re not here to do that.”

 

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