Worcester Begins Budget Process; Board Of Education Seeks $88.4M, Staff Raises, School Safety Director

SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners kicked off the annual budget process with a work session this week.

County officials began a department-by-department review of the proposed fiscal year 2019 operating budget Tuesday. A shortfall of nearly $9 million needs to be reconciled through the reduction of expenditures, which as proposed reach $211 million, or the addition of revenues, which are projected at $202.7 million. While revenues are up 2 percent, expenses are up 6 percent in the proposed spending plan.

As it always does, a significant portion of the proposed budget goes to the Worcester County Board of Education. The school system this year is requesting $88.4 million in funding from the county. That includes an increase of nearly $1.3 million in maintenance of effort funding as well as $1.8 million for salary increases. The salary package includes a step increase as well as a 1 percent cost of living adjustment for teachers and a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment for support staff. The budget also provides for a 1 percent increase in bus contractor rates.

On Tuesday, Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor told the commissioners the budget also included funding for creation of a new position to oversee school safety. He said that after recent school shootings student safety was a priority.

“A crucial piece of ensuring student success is safeguarding learning environments,” he said. “Instruction cannot happen if students and staff don’t feel safe.”

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While the position was not in the school system’s initial proposed budget, officials said that because estimates for a new athletic field at Stephen Decatur High School had come in lower than expected funding for the position would not increase the school system’s budget request.

Tom Perlozzo, the county’s new director of recreation and parks, said recreation program revenues were increasing. He said the county hadn’t seen as many tournaments as officials had hoped for last year however. He said that was something he planned to change with more focus on the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Sports Alliance (MAASA).

“My goal, my idea is we need to take more advantage and take the lead in Worcester County,” he said. “Our assets of natural beauty, outdoor open space, including our fields, we have an opportunity to take a different look and a different angle at MAASA to bring our tournament revenues back in line.”

Lisa Challenger, the county’s tourism director, told the commissioners her department was projecting expenses of slightly more than $1 million in fiscal year 2019. As she has in the past, she asked that the department’s social media coordinator position be made full-time. She pointed out that a longtime employee was retiring and that would create savings.

“The new hire will come in at less,” she said.

Worcester County Health Officer Rebecca Jones told the commissioners her department was seeking a .8 percent increase in its budget for the coming year. Expenses are projected at slightly more than $5.5 million in fiscal year 2019. Jones said she hoped to provide employees with a step increase and cost-of-living adjustment in January. She also wants to offer a bonus aimed at increasing nurse retention. She said her department did not have plans for any new employees or new vehicles in the coming year.

The county’s environmental programs department is seeking a 6 percent budget increase this year. Bob Mitchell, head of the department, said he was hoping to hire an additional permit clerk.

“Work is up,” he said, “especially with new permits.”

The budget presented by Worcester County Jail Warden Donna Bounds includes projected expenditures of $9.2 million. She said it included funding for one new position, a pre-trial service manager required by law, as well as a variety of equipment. She said the jail needed a tractor to help with maintenance and snow removal as well as polo shirts to provide staff with relief in the humid building.

While the commissioners made few comments Tuesday, they’re expected to host a second work session April 10. Citizens will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed budget May 1.

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.