Worcester Facing Major Budget Revenue Shortfall

SNOW HILL – Worcester County officials have reported bleak revenue projections as the county prepares to begin its annual budget process.

Finance Officer Phil Thompson told the Worcester County Commissioners laset Thursday that property tax revenue was still down and that the county’s budget stabilization funds were nearly depleted.

“Clearly you have a daunting task ahead of you,” he said.

Thompson said Worcester County’s assessable tax base had decreased from more than $20 billion in FY 2009 to just under $15 billion in FY 2015.

“The effect of this downtown cannot be minimized,” he said, adding that the majority of the county’s revenue came from property taxes.

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The assessable base is expected to continue to drop in FY 2016 but is projected to increase to slightly more than $15 billion in FY 2017.

“The bottom of the revenue trough is estimated to occur in FY 2016,” Thompson said.

Property taxes, which amounted to $126 million in revenue in FY 2012, are expected to drop to $117.7 million in FY 2016. Income tax revenue has also shown a decline in recent years. Although the county received $13.1 million from income taxes in 2009, that revenue stream is expected to amount to just $12.4 million in FY 2016.

Thompson said the county had $17.1 million left in budget stabilization funds. He expects $7.1 million of that to be used to balance the FY 2015 budget. That will leave $10.5 million to fund shortfalls in the FY 2016 spending plan.

“We’re still short,” he said.

Proposed legislation that would cut the county’s share of casino revenue could further complicate matters. Thompson said if passed, the legislation would reduce the county’s casino revenue by close to $300,000 each of the next two years.

“Those funds are looking to be severely depleted,” he said, adding that county officials had planned to use that revenue to pay down debt associated with the construction of Worcester Technical High School.

“I just hope they don’t cut more,” said Thompson.