Friday, May 28–County To Fund Welcome Center

SNOW HILL – The Pocomoke Welcome Center should be kept open, the
Worcester County Commissioners decided this week.

In a final budget work session Tuesday morning, the Worcester County
Commissioners considered last-minute changes to the fiscal year 2011 budget,
with some further expenditures on the table, as well as more reductions.

The commissioners agreed Tuesday to several minor changes to the
overall FY 11 budget accepted by consensus at an earlier budget work session,
including the addition of funding for the Pocomoke Welcome Center, one of the
most visited welcome centers in the state of Maryland.

The meeting, which was tentatively scheduled earlier this year, but
appeared to be unnecessary earlier this month, was held after Commissioner
Bobby Cowger raised budget questions last week.

The county also faced some minor changes connected to keeping open the
Pocomoke Welcome Center and a few other items which would be too much to handle
on the day the budget is to be passed, staff felt.

On Tuesday, the commissioners tentatively agreed to take over
operating the Pocomoke Welcome Center, previously a state concern, with the
carrot of a $50,000 grant from the state of Maryland to supplement county
spending on the well-used tourist stop. The state plans to close the Pocomoke
Welcome Center to save money unless the county is willing to take over

“We have to spend $100,000 to get $50,000,” said county administrator
Gerry Mason.

The county is not committed irrevocably to the welcome center by
agreeing to add it to the budget, since county officials must still sign a
contract with the state and would still have time to back out of the agreement
later, Mason said.

Pocomoke City has offered some staffing help for the Pocomoke Welcome
Center, probably one day per week, and to cover sewer costs for the center.
Pocomoke City Mayor Mike McDermott expressed strong support for the welcome
center earlier this month when the commissioners first considered whether to
take over the welcome center.

The town of Berlin has also inquired about renting space at the center
for a display, Mason reported.

At this week’s meeting, the county also heard about or agreed to
several other changes.

The Board of Education, after saving $400,000 on health insurance
costs, asked the commissioners to move that funding to the textbooks and
classroom materials category.

“The total amount [of the school budget] did not change,” said Mason.

“That’s a wash,” said Commission President Bud Church.

The commissioners will have to approve that transfer within the
schools budget next week when they approve the budget.

Also, Wor-Wic Community College identified another $100,000 in cuts,
and revised its fiscal year 2011 county budget request for the final time.

“Essentially, Wicomico reduced their funding level so they reduced
ours,” said Mason.

The commissioners also agreed to put funding back into the NASA intern
program, remedying earlier cuts with an additional $14,500 that brings the
Worcester County contribution up to the same level as NASA’s $75,000 grant.

The Board of Elections has shaved another $35,000 from its budget,
which has been reduced by eliminating expenditures on items that will not be
needed during this election year.

The county also found $32,000 to support the Health Department’s Local
Management Board.

Late in the meeting, the commissioners discussed a request by a
regional vending machine company for relief on or elimination of licensing

The vending machine company made the request at the annual public
budget hearing in early May, saying that the $25 license fee per gumball
machine is prohibitively expensive for the low earning machines. Since that
meeting, the county has received a second request similar to the first.

“I don’t think it’s worth changing,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs, who
received support from her colleagues.

The county earns over $120,000 a year from vending machine licenses on
devices from soda machines to gumball machines.

Although county law requires it, most vending companies do not get a
license and pay the fee upfront, actions that usually wait until the county
inspector notices the new machines and contacts the company.

The fiscal year 2011 budget will be passed at the next commissioners
meeting on June 1.