SNOW HILL – The Worcester County budget was balanced this week through putting off or downscaling some construction projects, but without lay-offs, furloughs or other drastic action.
The Worcester County Commissioners made the decision during a budget work session Wednesday.
“You will note we are $327,000 in the hole and we are trying to fill that,” said Mason.
The first option Mason offered reduced the debt service of $225,000 on improvements to the Berlin Senior Center by paying for the work directly, instead of going to the bond market.
Mason also suggested using $200,000 set aside to pay future Board of Education legal bills in the BEKA lawsuit.
“We are not likely to need that,” said Mason, who added that the likely outcome of the Board’s appeal was a remand of the case to the Circuit Court to be heard again. That probably will not take place for a year, he said.
“I don’t think we should touch that,” said County Commissioners President Louise Gulyas. “We really don’t know how it’s going to go.”
The commissioners have already set aside $1.1 million to cover the judgment against the Worcester County Board of Education in that lawsuit, pending the board’s appeal.
The Isle of Wight public works building addition, at $778,000 was also a potential target for cuts, according to staff, as was a new public works storage facility costing $2.4 million.
“Another option you could take into consideration would be staff reductions,” Mason said.
The consolidation of the Comprehensive Planning, Development Review and Permitting, and Environmental Programs departments into one would save $532,000 through layoffs of 12 employees.
Ten people laid off from the roads crew would save $331,000. Eliminating 25 part-time and temporary employees would save $195,000.
“Another option would be furloughs for non-public safety. This would not include the Sheriff or Emergency Services or the Fire Marshal,” Mason said.
One furlough day would save Worcester County $84,000, he said.
Revisiting the grants to the towns and Ocean Pines was also presented as an option.
“I think they should be left alone,” said Gulyas.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley reminded his fellow elected officials that a decision made last week during budget talks reduces three town grants by 11 percent. The Ocean City grant was reduced just 9 percent. A real 10-percent reduction for all would save another $90,000.
“If we’re being fair to everyone, all the towns should be cut the same,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.
Gulyas said Ocean City should not be viewed as the same as the other municipalities – Snow Hill, Pocomoke and Berlin – and Ocean Pines.
“I think Ocean City puts more in the pot than anybody,” Gulyas said. “They need it. They need it for tourism. We have this argument every year. If they don’t get out there and beat the drum, nobody will come.”
Money set aside for design and construction improvements to Snow Hill High School, $1.77 million, was offered for potential cuts. The project has been pushed back to 2012 or 2013.
Commissioner Bud Church said he was not comfortable using the high school improvements funding.
Gulyas agreed, saying, “I don’t think we should touch it. You don’t know what next year’s going to bring. We might have to take that money next year for the Board of Education.”
Shockley suggested looking at the $512,000 set aside a few years ago for athletic fields at Snow Hill High School, an amount which does not cover the needed improvements.
Boggs suggested leaving the field money alone and taking the $327,000 from the $1.77 million needed for design and construction improvements to the school.
Two approaches looked best, she said, the lawsuit funding, which should not be needed for another year, and the high school design and construction funding, which will not be needed for a few years.
“I would certainly not take the whole thing,” Boggs said.
“In two years, you’re not going to find money to replace it with,” said Cowger.
The commissioners voted unanimously to fund the Berlin Senior Center money from the public works storage facility and the Isle of Wight building.
Then the commissioners balanced the budget with $225,000 savings from funding the Berlin Senior Center directly rather than bonding it out, with the first bond payment, which was already included in the budget, to cover part of the shortfall.
Another $102,000 from undesignated funds meant for minor construction projects spanned the remaining funding gap.
The vote was unanimous.
“It’s settled. The budget is balanced,” said Gulyas. “It’s margarita time.”