County Departments Scramble To Meet 5% Cuts In Spending

SNOW HILL – Several county agencies that presented budget requests to the County Commissioners Wednesday all managed to cut their requests by at least 5 percent, as requested, and one by as much as 29 percent.

Cuts mean less services in some cases, including a reduction in health services from the Worcester County Health Department, a state agency funded in large part by the county.

One notable casualty of the health budget cuts is the Caroline St. summer health clinic in Ocean City. County Health Officer Debbie Goeller noted there has been a decrease in clinic visits in recent year as a result of other health care providers in operating Ocean City.

Pocomoke City’s health office has shifted to a four-day week. Mother and child home visits have been cut in half. Emergency preparedness and family planning funding has also been cut, as have addictions and tobacco cessation funding. Nine positions in the health department are staying vacant, with one staffer laid off so far.

“We’ve done more with less for a number of years now, and it’s getting to the point of being very concerning,” said Goeller. 

To comply with the county’s request, the Emergency Services Department has cut training, overtime, supplies, and equipment.

Currently, two positions are vacant because of the hiring freeze, said Emergency Services Director Theresa Owens, leaving the rest of the staff unable to take vacation time because there are not enough employees to cover shifts. Overall, emergency services cut its budget by 18 percent.

Of the hiring freeze instituted in the fall, Administrator Gerry Mason said, “We went back later and said no public safety either.”

“We’ll get back to you,” said County Commission President Louise Gulyas.

“You’ve got to have somebody sitting there,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.

The Worcester County Sheriff’s office is not asking for any new deputy positions, but five current deputies are expected to retire this year.

“I simply need people on the road to fill these positions,” said Sheriff Chuck Martin, adding that he would appreciate any consideration the commissioners could give.

One cut he would like to get back, Martin said, is the elimination of off-duty use of police cars.

“That hurts because you lose some visibility of police cars in the community,” said Martin. “You lose the ability of them to respond to other units on the road.”

The Worcester County Jail has cut its budget by the required 5 percent, though it was difficult, Warden Ira Shockley said. The jail is on target to exceed expected revenues for renting cell space to other jurisdictions, a revenue stream that could increase when the new jail wing is completed this fall.

The Worcester County Board of Elections made deep cuts, despite an election to be held next fall.

“I think we did really well on the budget. We cut it by 29 percent,” said Elections Director Patty Jackson.

More county agencies will formally present their budgets to the County Commissioners next Wednesday.

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