SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Commissioners met Tuesday in their final budget work session before the plan is set to be voted on June 5. Some of the most important decisions made during that meeting included the following.
Pension Shift Figures Finalized
The exact cost of the long dreaded teacher pension shift has been factored into the budget. Coming in at $1,271,561, the cost of the shift for the first year has been added to the Board of Education section of the budget. Originally, Worcester officials feared that the traditionally state-funded teacher pensions would be dumped to an even greater degree onto the laps of individual counties.
Chief Administrator Gerald Mason reminded the commission that pension costs had a “worst case scenario of $2.2 million.”
“That amount eventually got reduced to $1.2 million and change,” he said.
However, teacher pensions will be an annual cost and will only increase in the next few years until 2016 when all counties in Maryland are fully funding the expense. In 2017, Mason said that teacher pensions will merge with all Board of Education Maintenance of Effort (MoE) costs.
“Teacher pensions will be buried in there,” he said.
“I like that word: ‘buried,’” said Commissioner Louise Gulyas, taking a dig at a perceived pattern of deception and unfair treatment at the hands of the Maryland General Assembly.
Schools Funding Lowered
The Board of Education will most likely not be receiving all of the funding they have asked for this year. The commissioners voted to lower the board appropriation that will be voted on in June.
The appropriation, which does not include the funding that will be granted for things like technology and building improvement, is set at $72,697,806. This is $851,443 less than the $73,549,249 the Board of Education requested.
The board had originally requested “level funding” from last year, meaning the exact same amount. This differs from traditional MoE funding, which is based on student enrollment.
Because there will be 74 less students attending Worcester public schools next year, MoE is nearly $1 million lower than level funding.
Due to state law, counties must fully fund their schools at the MoE rate or face fines and repercussions. Mason pointed out that this has not been a problem in the past.
“We’ve never missed Maintenance of Effort,” he said.
Art League Gets $100K
The commission voted unanimously to offer a one-time, $100,000 grant to the Art League of Ocean City, though it will be broken into five yearly payments of $20,000.
Support for the league came after an impassioned plea by Gulyas, who represents Ocean City.
“I have to really beg you to support the Art League of Ocean City,” she said.
As far as grants go, the commission also pledged to support a number of community organizations including a $50,000 grant to Atlantic General Hospital, a $42,000 grant to Diakonia, and $15,000 grants to both the Samaritan Shelter and Social Services Pharmacy program.
Deputy Director Post Created
Worcester’s Economic Development Department will be getting some much anticipated funding in order to pursue the strategies being implemented by recently hired Director Bill Badger. Among the budget line items that will be included in the final budget when it is voted on next month are a new deputy director, a $15,000 website upgrade, and a $7,500 VIP real estate investment bus tour among other things.
“If we don’t give the man the tools to do his job, he can’t,” said Gulyas after being outvoted concerning approval of three of Badger’s other requests — a $5,000 Business Ambassador program, a $15,000 Ocean City gateway marketing and advertising initiative and a $15,000 target industry study.
Infrastructure Funds Declined
In anticipation of a broadband network coming to area schools in the next year and a half, the commission discussed setting aside funding for necessary internal upgrades to make schools compatible with the new infrastructure. However, the commissioners chose not to set a specific line item in the Board of Education section of the budget for the upgrades and instead plan to pull money from the county designated fund after the budget season.
“We could go to our designated fund after our budget is settled and take whatever funds are needed from there,” said Gulyas.
The upgrades will likely cost several hundred thousand dollars to connect all 14 county public schools to the network. If that money was included in the school board budget this year, Mason pointed out that, because of MoE rules, it would raise the floor on maintenance funding and have to become an annual expense.