Unknowns Cloud County’s Capital Project Plan

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County debated this week to extend the date for adopting the fiscal years 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Program as county staff works on a budget for the coming year.

In a work session of the Wicomico County Council this week, Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg said staff will reexamine how the county will pay for capital projects in the proposed Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

“Frankly, as we are going through the budget, we are taking another very hard look at that,” he said.

Strausburg said the proposed capital budget for 2020 will use nearly $9 million in reserves to pay for projects in the coming fiscal year. But he noted legislation to raise the minimum wage and plans to implement recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education – or Kirwan Commission – could impact the county’s capital spending plan.

“What we want to take a look at now is how far we want to go into that unassigned fund balance,” he said. “We know the minimum wage bill has cleared the House. I’m sure that’s going to clear the Senate. That’s going to have an impact on the county … The other thing that really has our attention right now is the Kirwan Commission.”

While it is unclear how plans to implement public education recommendations would impact the county budget, Strausburg said a $15 minimum hourly wage is expected to cost Wicomico at least $7 million.

“Based on figures I have right now, our new general fund revenue for this coming year is on the order of just around $2 million and maintenance of effort is going to take up $1.2 million,” he said. “So we’ve got about $800,000.”

Strausburg added that many economists were predicting a recession in mid-2020.

“Back when I was doing the CIP, I was looking at finances quite a bit differently than I’m looking at them right now as we prepare the budget,” he said. “So we are going to revisit that. How much are we going to borrow, and how much are we going to use out of fund balance?”

Councilman Joe Holloway questioned if the council should extend the date for adopting the CIP.

“I think you have the authority to extend the date of approval, and if you say you want to extend that to the first meeting in April I don’t have any objection to that,” Strausburg said. “I think I would have a much better idea of what the real spending and affordability is going to be by the end of March.”

He added more consideration should be given to the county’s capital plan before it is adopted.

“I’m not quite comfortable that the plan we proposed back in February is something we should proceed with in this coming fiscal year,” he said. “I have to do more math.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.