County Mulls Education, Public Safety, Road Funding Cuts

SNOW HILL – Cuts in public safety, roads and education among other areas are expected to help balance Worcester County’s $189 million budget for the coming year.

The Worcester County Commissioners began their line-by-line review of the FY 2017 budget this week, making it about halfway through the extensive document in a work session Tuesday. The commissioners reviewed budget cuts made by a staff committee and added their own in an effort to reduce what started as a $6 million deficit.

While the commissioners were quick to make cuts to most areas of the budget, they agreed that the county’s roads were going to require significantly more funding in the future.

“These roads are failing fast,” Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw said. “You have a couple more winters and you’re going to have chunks of road coming out everywhere.”

Though he suggested allocating $2 million for blacktop overlay, the majority of the commissioners agreed with the staff recommendation to provide just $1 million for overlay. Commissioner Jim Bunting said there was a chance the highway user revenues passed down from the state would return.

“The governor’s indicated he’s going to do that,” Commissioner Bud Church added.

The commissioners agreed they would reconsider road funding in the beginning of 2017.

While the commissioners made modest cuts in categories such as furniture, training and office supplies, the bulk of the $6 million shortfall the county faced at the start of the budget process was eliminated following a staff committee’s review of the budget earlier this spring. The committee reduced the budget requested by the school board by nearly $1 million. The committee reduced funding to the county’s municipalities by just under $1 million and cut roughly the same amount from the roads budget. The budget requested by the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department was cut by more than $500,000.

Though the commissioners are expected to review the cuts made to education and the municipalities at a work session May 18, they discussed the reductions made to the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department budget Tuesday.

The committee review dropped the department’s budget request from $7.6 million to $7,069,989. Much of those savings came through providing funding for just three of the six new deputies that had been requested.

Church suggested funding four deputies instead, while Commissioner Ted Elder recommended funding two.

“There’s sheriff’s deputies everywhere,” he said, adding that the area’s population hadn’t increased enough to merit too many new deputies.

The commissioners voted 6-1, with Elder opposed, to compromise and fund three deputies, as suggested by the committee.

Funding to volunteer fire companies was one of the only parts of the budget the commissioners agreed to increase this week. For several years, each department has been provided with $225,000 toward ambulance service. Based on a suggestion from Commissioner Jim Bunting, that will increase to $235,000 this year.

“The $225,000 cap has been there a long time,” he said. “I think we need to look at that.”

While it’s been bumped to $235,000 for each company in the proposed budget, Bunting also suggested a committee be created to study the issue in the future.

The commissioners will resume their discussion of the proposed budget at a work session at 9 a.m. on May 18.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.