Shore Counties To See More Funding In Governor’s Budget

BERLIN — Gov. Martin O’Malley this week introduced his proposed fiscal year 2014 budget, and while the weighty document is sprinkled with mixed news, it appears Worcester and Wicomico counties could stand to gain much more in state aid in various departments and for significant capital projects.

O’Malley on Wednesday introduced a proposed $37.3 billion fiscal year 2014 budget that includes an estimated $325 million in spending cuts while increasing the state’s rainy day fund to $921 million while reducing the structural deficit by $318 million. The governor called the spending plan a “jobs budget” and called on state lawmakers not to tinker too much with the final product.

“Because of the better choices we’ve made together over the years, we enter 2013 in a better position than most other states to create jobs, expand opportunity and protect the safety and security of our citizens,” he said. “We’ve built the number-one public schools in America five years in a row, driven down violent crime to three-decade lows and protected our AAA bond rating. The proposed fiscal year 2014 budget protects the progress we’ve made together and places us on the verge of eliminating the long-standing structure deficit.

A line-by-line look at the governor’s proposed budget, on the surface, shows a significant amount of increases in Worcester and Wicomico, particularly in the capital budget for schools, roads, public facilities and infrastructure. In Worcester, the governor’s capital budget includes $3.5 million for Snow Hill High School and another $166,000 for Snow Hill Middle School.

The capital budget also includes funding for Assateague State Park, including $400,000 for dune maintenance and another $25,000 for replacing the boardwalk decking in the park. Ocean City made the list with $30,000 earmarked for improvements at the skate park, while Berlin also made the list with $66,000 dedicated to replacing the basketball courts in Henry Park. For some reason, another line item for $3.5 million for the Ocean City Convention Center Performing Arts venue is listed under Wicomico.

Also included in the governor’s capital budget for Worcester is $400,000 to renovate the shower buildings in the Pocomoke River State Park, and $70,000 to replace the dump station at Shad Landing. The Nassawango Forestry Work Center in Worcester would also receive $40,000 to renovate the exterior of the facility. O’Malley’s capital budget also includes $162,000 in local grants through the state’s Program Open Space.

Over in Wicomico, the list of state expenditures in the governor’s capital budget is huge including funding for several major projects. For example, the budget includes $13 million for biological nutrient removal at the Salisbury Wastewater Treatment Plant, along with another $11.7 million for enhanced nutrient removal at the facility. Also included in the capital budget is $7.7 million for the state’s share in the Bennett Middle School project.

Salisbury University is set to receive $6.6 million for a new Academic Commons facility. The Sharptown water treatment facility is earmarked for $1.3 million and the capital spending plan includes $168,000 in local grants through Program Open Space. Otherwise, Wicomico is set to receive funding for a variety of public school upgrades at 10 different schools, the largest of which is $251,000 for Mardela High and Middle Schools.

The governor’s proposed operating budget includes increases to state aid to the counties in a variety of departments, and for Worcester and Wicomico, those line items would be increased substantially in some cases if the spending plan is approved. For example, the total amount of state aid for Worcester, including retirement payments, comes in at $36 million, representing an increase of around $3 million from fiscal year 2013, or around 8.7 percent.

In Wicomico, the amount of state aid including retirement payments for fiscal year 2014 comes in at around $153 million, representing an increase of $6.8 million, or a 4.7 percent increase. The state average increase came in at 4.8 percent.

A look at the department-by-department breakdown of the governor’s proposed budget shows increases for Worcester and Wicomico in nearly every category. For example, in the category of police, fire and rescue and public safety, each county will see increases if the budget is approved. Worcester would receive $653,000 in police aid and another $260 in fire and rescue aid for a total of $913,000, representing an increase of $196,000.

The numbers are more pronounced in Wicomico. For example, Wicomico would receive $1 million in police aid and $232,000 in fire and rescue aid from the state for a total of $1.3 million, representing an increase of $421,000.

Perhaps the biggest hikes in state aid fell under transportation including highway user fees and funding for transportation of the elderly and disabled. Worcester would receive $729,000 in highway user fees and another $341,000 for the elderly and disabled, for a total increase of $585,000, or about 60 percent. Wicomico would receive $1 million in highway user fees, and $231,000 for the elderly and disabled, for a total increase of $948,000 or a whopping 81 percent.

One area where the lower shore, and Worcester in particular, continues to lag behind in is the amount of state aid per pupil in the public school system. Because the formula is largely based on the value of real estate in the counties, Worcester is often penalized for the large amount of high-dollar real estate in and around the resort area and the figures bear that out again in the proposed budget.

For example, Worcester is set to receive $4,357 per pupil in the fiscal year 2014 budget, which is the second lowest total in the state behind Talbot County, which would receive $3,784 per pupil. By comparison, neighboring Wicomico County would receive $9,856 per pupil under the governor’s proposed budget.