BERLIN – Funding requests for education, volunteer fire companies local nonprofits and the arts dominated a public hearing on the county’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget this week.
On Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners asked for public comment on the county’s proposed $202.7 million budget. The commissioners will spend the coming weeks working to balance the budget, which currently includes a shortfall of $6.7 million amid the various funding requests from county departments and local organizations.
“We hear you,” said Diana Purnell, president of the board. “We’ll do what we can do.”
As officials asked for comment in each of the more than 30 areas of the county’s budget, few spending categories drew public input. Landowner Harold Scrimgeour expressed concern about unplanned growth in Worcester County. He proposed the county establish an economic development planning officer position to address the issue.
“We don’t have a collective person that brings all that knowledge together,” he said, adding that the county currently didn’t even have an economic development director.
Tim Jerscheid, speaking on behalf volunteer fire companies in the county, stressed the funding needs of local fire companies as they worked to provide fire and EMS coverage to local residents.
“We always need financial support to assist in our delivery of services,” he said.
Trey Heiser said that EMS costs in particular continued to rise.
“Times have changed…,” he said. “We can’t keep providing the advanced services that we’re currently providing at the same rate we’ve been getting for the past 10 years.”
Several speakers advocated for funding to local nonprofits. Allyson Bernard-Church, president of Diakonia, thanked the county for past support. She said that while the nonprofit needed financial support from the county, it did work all year to raise funds.
“The point I want to send home is we are not a spoiled child coming to our parents to ask for an allowance,” she said. “We work very hard all year to raise the funds that we can to go forward.”
Jack Ferry, executive director of the Worcester County Developmental Center, said the organization had grown in the past five years from 85 clients to 116 clients. He said that 85% of the developmental center’s funding came from federal and state government.
“This is all new money we’re bringing into the county,” he said.
He added, however, that the center often faced unfunded mandates and still needed the county’s financial support.
Steve Taylor, executive director of Worcester Youth and Family Counseling, said the Berlin-based agency was experiencing an increased demand for counseling services.
“We have a waiting list,” he said.
Representatives of the Marva Theater, Furnace Town, the Ocean City Center for the Arts and the Delmarva Discovery Museum also asked for financial help in the coming year.
Several people connected to Furnace Town spoke on behalf of the historical site. Last year the commissioners cut $30,000 in funding to Furnace Town.
“If we’re going to grow we don’t need less money we need more money,” said Ron Geesey, a member of Furnace Town’s board of directors.
Jessica Evans, director of Furnace Town, said the historical site provided local students with a variety of educational experiences. In the next three weeks, she said 1,000 children would visit Furnace Town.
“We rely heavily on the county…,” she said. “Without this support we’re not going to be able to do what we’re here to do.”
Lou Taylor, the county’s superintendent of schools, addressed the needs of the school system.
“I am confident standing before you that our budget request is entirely rooted in what we believe to be the best interests of the students of Worcester County,” he said.
He said priorities included hiring and retaining qualified teachers, maintaining small class sizes, providing necessary materials of instruction and supporting afterschool programs.
“It is my belief the budget before you will meet the needs of our students both now and into the future,” he said.
Beth Shockley-Lynch, president of the Worcester County Teachers Association, said educators were responsible for making local schools the successful learning environments they were. She added that her organization was willing to work with the county in any efforts to advocate for higher levels of state funding.
“We all continue to be disappointed with the lack of direction and financial support that’s coming from the state,” Shockley-Lynch said.
She indicated teachers and support staff were willing to fight aspects of the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations that would negatively impact the county’s state funding.
“Both the associations will support the commissioners in any and all efforts to increase funding from the state,” she said. “It’s just wrong that the state limits funding to our county based on a funding formula that they came up with. We must continue to work together to find ways to defend ourselves against the parts of Kirwan that would limit or reduce our funding from the state.”
A handful of parents also spoke up to highlight the school system’s funding needs.
“Mr. Taylor knows what our schools need,” parent Keri Payne said. “I put my faith in his budget request and I hope you’ll do the same.”
The commissioners will next discuss the budget at a work session scheduled for May 14. Additional work sessions are set for May 21 and May 28, with budget adoption scheduled for June 4.