Commissioners Face $5M Shortfall Entering Budget Process

SNOW HILL – Worcester County officials are facing a roughly $5 million shortfall as they begin the annual budget process.

County staff presented the Worcester County Commissioners with a requested FY2018 operating budget of $204 million on Tuesday.  County revenues in the coming year are expected to reach $199 million, leaving officials with a shortfall of $4,919,840 to eliminate. The commissioners’ first budget work session is scheduled for next week.

“As we go through the budget reconciliation process the difference of $4,919,840 will be balanced either through an increase in revenues, a decrease in expenditures or a combination of the two,” said Harold Higgins, the county’s chief administrative officer.

According to Higgins, estimated revenues will increase roughly $10 million in FY2018.  Net property tax revenues will jump $3,148,939 as a result of increased assessments and homeowner tax credits. Income tax revenues are expected to rise by $4.2 million. Other local taxes, such as recordation and transfer, are expected to provide the county with an additional $2.1 million.

While revenues are up, so are expenses. Worcester County’s salary, insurance and benefit costs are expected to increase by $1.7 million in the coming year. The Worcester County Board of Education has requested an additional $3.3 million in funding.

The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office is seeking an increase of $781,545 in funding, primarily to hire new officers. Worcester County Emergency Services has requested an additional $509,180 for FY2018. That would allow the department to restructure salaries, hire a new IT employee and purchase radio supplies.

The Worcester County Jail presented a budget request for an additional $711,389 which would be used for a variety of items, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades.

The budget as proposed includes the use of $1,725,431 of budget stabilization funds to help offset expenses. Commissioner Chip Bertino said he did not agree with including those funds in the revenue column at the beginning of the budget process.

“We have a process to go through,” he said. “At the end of that process a determination can be made whether or not to take money from the stabilization fund.”

Commissioner Ted Elder agreed. He pointed out that the stabilization funds added to the increase in revenues the county was projecting for the coming year.

“It’s not really an increase at all,” he said.

The commissioners are slated to begin reviewing the budget in a work session March 28 at 9 a.m. A second work session is scheduled for April 11. Citizens will have an opportunity to comment on the proposed spending plan at a public hearing at Snow Hill High School May 2.

Adoption of the budget is set for June 6.

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.