Worcester Towns Hoping For Level Grant Funding

SNOW HILL — Municipalities in Worcester County got a chance to pitch a few budget requests at the County Commissioners this week, but the almost across-the-board request was to simply preserve the same level of grant funding from last year.

“We’re at a time right now where things are really starting to happen in Pocomoke,” said Mayor Bruce Morrison.

According to Morrison, Pocomoke has benefited from working with Lisa Challenger, the director of tourism for Worcester County.

“She’s been a big asset,” Morrison said.

Additionally, he complimented the commission on hiring Bill Badger as the new director of economic development.

Morrison did present special projects that Pocomoke would like to see focused on in fiscal year 2013, including ambulance and industrial development. Ambulances especially have been a financial burden, admitted Morrison.

According to a letter from City Manager Russell Blake, Pocomoke was forced to take over a local ambulance company in July 2007. He revealed that a net loss of roughly $165,000 is expected for the company this year.

Blake asked that Worcester reconsider its current ambulance reimbursement formula “to take into account the much longer travel distances that our ambulances must go in order to transport patients to PRMC.”

“We’re putting more miles on our ambulances than probably anybody else in the county,” said Morrison.

Blake wrote that the extra mileage meant more “wear and tear” and more frequent vehicle replacements.

Snow Hill Mayor Stephen Mathews did not list anything specifically during his time before the commission. In his letter, he asked that the county match its funding from last year.

“The town of Snow Hill is very grateful for your generosity last fiscal year,” wrote Mathews in his letter to the commissioners “and we would like to respectfully request $400,000 to be granted again this year.”

Mathews added that, if the commission is unable to match last year’s funding due to limited resources, “we understand your position.”

Berlin also asked for a repeat of Worcester’s $400,000 grant from last year. Like Mathews, Mayor Gee Williams expressed sympathy for the commissioners’ position and acknowledged that this budget season would be a difficult one.

“I don’t envy any of you and the challenges you have,” he said.

Williams spoke briefly on the progress Berlin has been making over the last few years through economic development and tourism. Several new businesses have moved to town during that time as well as the creation of several new town events that have attracted thousands of visitors.

After cutting more than a million dollars from the town budget since 2008, Williams told the commission that he hopes to at least “stabilize” the budget this year and for the next few years.

“We’re there for you to the extent that we can be there,” promised Commission President Bud Church.

Ocean City echoed the request for preserving funding levels from last year. In a letter to the commission, Mayor Rick Meehan noted that in 2007 Ocean City requested a tax differential for residents that was turned down by the commission. Meehan noted that the level of county grants has moved closer to making up for that differential since 2009, though it has not yet broken even. He asked that the level of grant funding from fiscal year 2012 remain the same in fiscal year 2013.

Unlike the other towns, Ocean Pines did request a larger grant this year compared to last. However, unlike the others, Ocean Pines is not an incorporated town and does not receive an unrestricted grant. Instead, Ocean Pines Association General Manager Bob Thompson sent a letter requesting focused funding on a number of issues, including public safety, flooding, roads and bridges, and recreation and parks.

The most substantial thing Ocean Pines is asking for is $520,000 for public safety, up from the $400,000 grant they received last year. Thompson also informed the commission that Ocean Pines hopes to see that number increase in later budgets.

“In future years, we hope to see a greater portion of public safety operating costs supported through county funding,” he wrote.

Finally, though not a town or municipality, Wor-Wic Community College also submitted a proposed budget for FY2013. The total requested budget for the school for next year is $23,625,000, which is $885,000 or 3.89-percent higher than last year. College officials are asking that Worcester contribute $1,386,480, which does not represent an increase from FY2012’s funding.

In a series of upcoming meetings, the commission will review the requests before deciding whether to approve the proposals.