Wicomico Withdraws State Waiver Request

SALISBURY — As expected, Wicomico officials this week withdrew its request for a waiver of the state’s Maintenance of Effort (MoE) after state lawmakers last week approved a budget saving the county from an expected $14 increase in the level of funding to public schools.

State law requires counties across Maryland to maintain at least level funding from the prior year for their public school systems under the MoE program. For Wicomico, achieving Maintenance of Effort this year would have required an expenditure of $14 million, an amount the county simply could not afford this year in the face of declining revenues and reduced property value assessments.

When state lawmakers closed the 2012 General Assembly session without approving the governor’s proposed budget in April, the so-called “doomsday” budget was triggered, which was essentially a balanced budget with spending increased by around $700 million over the prior year with no tax increases, no teacher pension liability shift to the counties.

However, the default budget did not let Wicomico County off the hook for the estimated $14 million needed to meet its MoE requirement, an obligation many believed would put the county in jeopardy of insolvency. However, when state lawmakers last week approved the governor’s budget, the MoE requirements for the counties were re-based, essentially eliminating the need for Wicomico to allocate an additional $14 million to its public schools.

Prior to the special session last week, Wicomico officials applied for a waiver from the $14 million MOE requirement and a hearing with the state Board of Education was set for Tuesday. On Monday, however, Wicomico County Executive Richard Pollitt, Jr. sent a letter to the state board withdrawing the waiver request.

“Having our MoE standard re-based under the terms of the state legislation, I am now able to proceed with my original budget to the Wicomico County Council,” the letter reads. “That budget provides the full amount originally requested by our local Board of Education, not only achieving MoE, but adding more than $500,000 in new funding as well.”

Pollitt said in the letter relaxing Wicomico’s MoE standard would allow the county to invest even more into its public school system.

“It also allows funding for our new and much-needed Bennett Middle School and provides money for other school-related capital projects,” the letter reads. “Acknowledging our local board’s position that their original budget will meet the needs of our school children for the coming year, I am please and confident that Wicomico County will do its duty to public education next year, even in an economic climate of extreme challenge.”