Duplicated Services In Salisbury, Wicomico Questioned

SALISBURY – City Council members this week echoed citizens’ concerns over agencies within the mayor’s proposed budget duplicating services that already exist through collaboration with Wicomico County.

A public hearing was held before the Salisbury City Council on Monday evening concerning an ordinance to appropriate the necessary funds for the operation of the government and administration of the City of Salisbury for the period July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, establishing the levy for the general fund for the same fiscal period and establishing the appropriation for the water and sewer, parking authority and city marina funds.

The ordinance states, “the tax levy be set at $0.897 per $100 of assessed valuation of all real property, and at $2.21 per $100 of assessed valuation for all personal property, subject to taxation by the City of Salisbury for General Fund purposes, including debt service purposes but exclusive of revenues derived from the Water and Sewer Fund for debt service purposes attributed to water and sewer activities. All taxes levied by this ordinance shall be liens from and after July 1, 2014.”

Between the General Fund, Parking Authority Fund, Water Fund, Sewer Fund and Marina Fund the City of Salisbury’s FY15 Proposed Budget comes to a grand total of $50,081,961.

“One of the items that is in the proposed budget that I wanted to speak to you about tonight is the reorganization of the review that is done for building permits in regard to compliance with our safety issues,” said Matt Drew, executive vice president of AWB Engineers. “I wanted to share with you an experience I had recently with the current staff … we have a very specialized and industrial application that we just went through with Wicomico County and the circumstances around this are a once in a blue moon situation … and I had a really good experience with the staff of Planning and Zoning. It was a very cooperative process.”

According to the city, Wicomico County and the City of Salisbury have conducted joint planning activities since 1943. In the early 1960′s, the two jurisdictions established the only joint Planning & Zoning Commission in the state, and a joint planning office to provide assistance to both the city and the county. In 1989, in response to increased growth and change, the Planning Office was re-designated as the Department of Planning, Zoning & Community Development. In 2003, the City of Salisbury joined with the State of Maryland, Wicomico County, Delmar and Fruitland to establish the federally recognized Salisbury/Wicomico Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

Currently, development policies are determined by the Mayor and Council for the City of Salisbury and the Executive and Council for Wicomico County. The Planning and Zoning Commission and the MPO Council have policy roles as designated by the governing bodies. The department is an agency of county government. It is funded by county, with regular financial support from Salisbury and grant support as available.

“I would like to leave you with the idea that if we were to take the responsibilities that they have and dilute them by breaking them into two different agencies reviewing some of the same things rather than having the right balance, which I think we have now with this agency reviewing both the city and the county, I think that we are going to have a duplication of effort and I don’t think that is very efficient,” Drew said. “So from my small vantage point in the world I recommend that we keep the system the way it is now and change that portion of the budget.”

According to Council President Jake Day, the creation of the new agency regarding fire inspections shows $349,000 in revenue and $200,000 in expenses in the mayor’s proposed budget.

“I have some concern with some of the things that are proposed here, such as what Mr. Drew addressed, where its essentially duplicating the service at an additional cost and expecting somehow it is going to create a revenue for us when really our fees are supposed to only support what it costs to provide, and I think that is something we need to take a very hard look at and perhaps adjust our numbers on,” Councilwoman Terry Cohen said.

Day agreed, adding the city should be looking for other examples of that kind of collaboration and coordination and cooperation, not fewer.

“I think the one shiny example of collaboration and cooperation that we have in terms of a consolidated department is planning and zoning, which includes the fire inspection service,” he said.

Councilman Tim Spies also looks to the Planning and Zoning as a collaborative effort.

“It is one of the few things the city and county have a very good working relationship with, and I think to break up anything that is involved with it takes away our ability to have a pulse of what is happening in the county, which affects us every day,” Spies said.

To view the entire FY15 Budget as proposed visit the City’s website at www.ci.salisbury.md.us.

The council was in budget sessions throughout the week. The second reading and adoption of FY15 Budget and water and sewer rates will be held on Tuesday, May 27.