County Budget Process Kicks Off $6.8 Million Short

SNOW HILL – Education and public safety funding requests highlighted a budget work session hosted by the Worcester County Commissioners this week.

On Tuesday, various county department directors presented their proposed fiscal year 2020 budgets to the commissioners in the first of several work sessions. As initially proposed, the overall budget includes a shortfall of $6.8 million, as revenues of $195.9 million are exceeded by proposed expenditures of $202.7 million.

School system leaders told the commissioners Worcester County Public Schools’ proposed $110 million budget included a county appropriation of $89.9 million, a 2.7% increase over the current fiscal year. The budget includes funding for salary increases for teachers as well as bus contractor. The budget includes $853,055 for one-time capital projects, including funding for design of a Stephen Decatur Middle School addition. One-time local grant items included in the budget include $200,000 for elementary reading curriculum and $50,000 for a Pocomoke Middle School after-school program.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic praised the budget but referenced the strong presence educators typically have at the county’s annual budget hearing, which will take place at Stephen Decatur High School May 7.

“I think it’s a very responsible budget you submitted,” he said. “We’ll see what we can do with it. I will remind you the night of the budget hearing at Stephen Decatur, less is more.”

Sheriff Matt Crisafulli presented the commissioners with a budget of $7.6 million. The budget, which is 1% higher than the current year’s budget, includes funding for an administrative assistant as well as the conversion of some part-time deputy positions to full-time. Crisafulli explained the administrative assistant, who would work from 4 p.m. to midnight, would help control overtime costs, which has been a struggle in the past.

“This will assist in my efforts to limit the amount of overtime paid for validations,” Crisafulli said. “I have noted in past budget presentations this was a suggestion from county commissioners.”

He also asked to have three part-time positions adjusted to full-time.

“Our part-time, sworn recruiting is failing to generate applications,” he said. “Law enforcement agencies nationwide are understaffed as a whole. The applications we are getting are for full-time positions.”

Crisafulli said he had vacancies in two part-time school deputy positions as well as five court deputy vacancies. He asked the commissioners to convert the two school positions and one of the civil positions to full-time in an effort to fill them.

He said the majority of the salary and equipment cost for doing so was already funded. The deputies will be provided with the three best vehicles slated to be turned in during fiscal year 2020.

“My thought here is the vehicles may not be suited for regular patrol use but for limited patrol and a majority of the use at schools and paper service they should be sufficient,” he said. “During the summer months, my two school positions will be supplementing my road patrol staffing. The civil deputy will assist with continued paper service and security.”

Fire Marshal Jeff McMahon told the commissioners his department was seeking a 6% increase in funding in the coming year to address rising personnel costs. McMahon said his office needed a second person to serve on call, as there had been three times during the past year when a second on-call responder had been needed. He’s also hoping to promote an employee and address the fact that the department’s office assistant’s duties have increased greatly in recent years.

On Tuesday the commissioners also reviewed budgets proposed for economic development ($440,481), tourism ($1.1 million) and the Worcester County Commission on Aging ($1.3 million). Rob Hart, executive director of the commission, said there were more seniors in need in Worcester County than people realized. The commission operates a variety of programs aimed at providing them with food, transportation and other support.

“Our focus is changing a little bit,” he said. “We believe if we don’t start putting more programs for prevention out there this budget will double in the next five years.”

State’s Attorney Kris Heiser said her office was seeking a 2% increase in funding for a total of slightly more than $1.4 million. Heiser said she’d made several efforts to cut costs — eliminating subscriptions to unused law books and turning in two of the department’s vehicles, among other things. She said the budget was set to increase, however, to address inequalities among employee salaries. She said there were “incredible disparities” among salaries for employees in similar positions. She expects the pay adjustments to help her retain employees.

“Nothing ruins morale more than someone with less experience making more than you,” she said.

The commissioners are expected to host their next budget work session April 9.

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.