SNOW HILL – Tax rates will not increase with the $189 million budget approved by the Worcester County Commissioners this week.
On June 7 the commissioners voted 6-1, with Commissioner Joe Mitrecic opposed, to approve the budget, which is 3.5 percent higher than the current year’s spending plan. Mitrecic said he was only voting against the budget because the Town of Ocean City didn’t get its fair share of financial support from the county.
“This is a great budget,” he said. “I’m proud of this budget however I will not be able to support it as it does not address the disparity between the amount of money that the Town of Ocean City gets and the rest of the municipalities and homeowners associations in the county get.”
In the now approved FY 2017 budget, Ocean City is set to receive $3.1 million from Worcester County. The Town of Berlin’s grant will amount to $601,000 while the Town of Snow Hill will receive $648,000. Ocean Pines will get a grant of $586,267 from the county while Pocomoke will receive $957,980.
Ocean City officials have long sought a tax differential from the county, arguing that many services are duplicated by the two jurisdictions. Just this year, county officials hired a consultant to study the issue. Though an initial report suggested reducing the tax rate for Ocean City taxpayers to $.740 and increasing it for all other county taxpayers to $.827, the commissioners said the issue would need to be studied further before changes were made.
The $189 million county budget for FY 2017 includes increases in several areas. An additional $477,787 for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Department will enable the department to hire three new deputies and purchase eight new vehicles.
The Worcester County Jail will also see a jump in funding in the coming year. An extra $465,259 is expected to allow for the purchase of a new transport vehicle, a new camera system and a new correctional officer, among other things.
Volunteer fire and ambulance funding increased $198,247 in the approved budget, providing each fire company with an additional $10,000 in FY 2017.
The Worcester County Board of Education will be allocated $81,193,802 in the coming year. That allows for a payroll increase of 2.3 percent, which includes a step increase for those eligible and a 1 percent increase for those beyond steps. Bus contractors will receive a 1 percent pay increase. In addition, starting teacher salaries will rise from $42,433 to $43,384.
After several work sessions spent balancing the overall budget this spring, county officials finished the task with a $90,261 surplus. That funding will go to the insurance and benefits contingency account in spite of a last-minute request from Mitrecic. On Tuesday, he asked his fellow commissioners if they would support using half of the surplus to purchase recording equipment so county meetings could be viewed online by the public. His motion to do so failed after receiving no second.