County Needs To Find $4.9M To Balance Budget

SNOW HILL – After a series of internal cost-saving measures were executed, nearly $5 million must still be cut from the requested Worcester County fiscal year 2011 budget to bring expenditures in line with revenues.

The total of all budget requests from county government departments and the Worcester County public school system is $165.6 million.

The county expects to take in $160.7 million in revenue from all sources in the next fiscal year, leaving a $4.9 million gap between what has been requested and the funding available.

Revenue estimates for next fiscal year are $12.9 million less than the current fiscal year, a 7-percent drop, fueled largely by a reduction in local property values.

Net property taxes for fiscal year 2011 compared to the current year, have been estimated to fall by $10.5 million, based on the current tax rate. Income tax revenue should also fall compared to last year, staff reported, a reduction of $2.2 million. Recordation and transfer tax revenues should remain flat, signaling a certain level of stability in the real estate market over the last year.

The county will also lose nearly $1 million in highway user tax revenue and another $1 million in overall state grant decreases. Interest earned on investments is projected to drop $800,000. Staff anticipates receiving less money from county liquor board sales and license and permit fees as well.

Nearly all county departments cut their requests again this year, as instructed by the County Commissioners, which was a difficult task some department heads said last week in presenting their budgets.

The Development Review and Permitting Department reduced its request by $681,000, through personnel savings, the loss of grants, and reductions in all accounts. The Sheriff’s Department is asking for $189,000 less, while requesting five new vehicles

County staff cautioned that the state of Maryland has not finalized its budget and more cuts in state funding could still come down.

The Maryland General Assembly ends the first week of April. Last year, Commissioner Judy Boggs recalled that state legislators got together and made more cuts in state funding to counties after the General Assembly session.

The Worcester County Board of Education has requested a $71.9 million budget, which meets the Maintenance of Effort law and includes an additional $538,000 for staff retirement expenses. The schools budget holds salaries flat, with no step, longevity or cost of living increases.

Including debt payments made on capital improvements to school buildings, the county’s $81 million responsibility for the local schools is 50.4 percent of the county’s estimated revenue for fiscal year 2011.

A few departments have requested more money from the county. 

The Worcester County jail asked for an additional $1.1 million as compared to last year. The recently expanded jail should bring in $1.7 million in fees from outside counties that need somewhere to put their prisoners.          

In one case, the commissioners must find the money for an increased request. With a primary and general election this fall, the Board of Elections needs another $577,000 as compared to the last fiscal year, including new voting machines as required by the state.

The commissioners, by consensus, decided against pursuing a waiver of the state’s Maintenance of Effort school funding requirement.

“It’s premature,” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas.

The annual public hearing on the budget will be held on May 4, beginning at 7 p.m., at Worcester Technical High School.