County Savings To Account For State’s Local Aid Cut

SNOW HILL – State cuts in Worcester County’s highway and police funding made in September will be absorbed through staff vacancies and departmental savings.

Worcester County lost $865,000 in highway user revenues and $30,704 in police aid in the recent round of cuts handed down by the state of Maryland.

The large drop in the highway user funds will be covered through the savings undertaken by the roads department in fiscal year 2009 (FY09), said Worcester County Budget Officer Kathy Whited.

The roads department boasts a $1,298,006 surplus, stemming from $732,857 in surplus revenue, and $565,149 in unspent encumbrances from fiscal year 2008.

Roads staff reduced expenditures on new equipment and paving to realize those savings, according to Whited.

“Prudent action by staff produced those savings,” Whited said.

In the wake of the September cut, the roads department will use $865,000 of its $1.3 million surplus from FY09 to pay for road maintenance in the current fiscal year. That leaves $433,006 of the roads department surplus, which will be designated for the fiscal year 2011 budget.

“Highway user revenue must be spent by the roads department and cannot be used by the General Fund,” Whited said.

The county’s municipalities and Ocean Pines were also hit by reductions in state aid. Ocean Pines lost about 90 percent of expected highway user funds, down to $10,572, for example.

The police aid reduction will be taken care of through salary savings on vacant positions. Currently, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office lacks a captain and a deputy for a salary savings of $36,054 in the first quarter of FY10, which covers the police aid cut, with $5,350 left over.

“At the moment, this will balance us,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.

More reductions will likely be handed down, many agree.

“We’re not sure it’s not going to be one more round of budget cuts,” said Shockley.

“According to Delegate [Norm] Conway, they’re coming back,” said Commission President Louise Gulyas.

On Tuesday, the commissioners also considered and approved year-end budget transfers, totaling $497,355, from fiscal year 2009, which will pay for unanticipated overages.

Most overage items were relatively small administrative changes, but one year-end transfer of $215,000 covered the costs of running Lower Shore Broadband Cooperative, while another year-end transfer of $102,000 paid for the renovation of the new location for the Berlin Senior Center, Whited explained.

Shockley questioned a $30,000 transfer for library costs, whether it was for repairs or maintenance or electricity.

“That’s a heck of a lot of not being on budget,” Shockley said.

“It was a little bit of everything,” Whited said.

Some of that $30,000 transfer paid for electric costs at the new Ocean City Library. No one knew how much that would cost at budget time because the new green building just came online within the last year, said Gulyas.

When new projects come up, everyone is worried about how the building will look, but at some point, people have to consider the costs of running the new structure, Shockley said.

“Somehow, you’ve got to figure in the cost of electricity on those things when you’re building those things,” he said.

The commissioners also approved $5.2 million in encumbrances, money set aside for projects and purchases for a future financial period. Projects include park improvements and maintenance, shoreline stabilization, and boat slip and pier replacement.

“Are these things we could stop, or is there no stopping some of them?” Commissioner Judy Boggs asked.

Whited said, “Most of these items are over $10,000, so they will be brought back to you.”

“You get another look,” county administrator Gerry Mason said.

Some items can be held back or put off, Mason said, which can be decided when the commissioners are asked for the final go ahead. Decisions can then be made on the financial situation at that time.            Right now, for example, the county is going ahead with installing new windows at the courthouse, but a planned brick project will wait.

“We’ve got more time and opportunity for the state to come back and make reductions,” Mason said.

Boggs said she did not want to get stuck with projects and purchases if the state reduces funding further.

“I feel better now,” Boggs said.