Wicomico Budget Needs Outlined

SALISBURY – County leaders met with several department heads this week to begin the lengthy task of reviewing the proposed budget for fiscal year 2020.

On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council hosted its first of many work sessions to review funding requests outlined in this year’s proposed $148 million budget.

This year, the Wicomico County Board of Education’s budget includes $46.15 million in county appropriations, which represents a 4.5% increase from the current fiscal year and $800,000 above maintenance of effort.

Superintendent Donna Hanlin told the council priorities include increasing the number of students ready to enter kindergarten, increasing the graduation rate and attracting and retaining a high-performing workforce.

“You see we are staying the course with the three strategic priorities,” she said. “The strategies are a bit different and are things we need to be doing to make progress.”

Hanlin said each priority also included funding for additional social workers, counselors and support staff.

“You will notice a recurring theme,” she said, “where we have really placed a lot of emphasis of this year’s budget on supporting the behavioral, social and emotional needs of our students.”

Councilman Bill McCain applauded the school system for following through with its strategic plan.

“This is a good example of why you have a strategic plan …,” he said. “It really shows from a budgetary process that you are following your plan and accomplishing your goals.”

The council on Tuesday also reviewed budgets from the administration/executive department, roads department, volunteer fire and the Salisbury Regional Airport, which includes $2.22 million in county funding for fiscal year 2020.

Councilman Marc Kilmer questioned if expenses at the airport continued to outpace revenue growth.

“Looking at the actuals of 2018 and the actuals of 2019, revenue is heading up some, but not as much as expenses,” he said.

Airport Manager Dawn Veatch agreed. She said new tenants and renegotiated contracts with car rental companies at the facility would generate additional revenue.

“That revenue is extremely low, and it has not been renegotiated in 15 years,” she said.

Representatives with the Wicomico County Department of Corrections also came before the council on Tuesday to present a proposed budget of $16.5 million. The budget, which is roughly $200,000 lower than the current budget, includes salary increases of nearly $300,000 to hire additional officers and maintenance staff.

“The building isn’t getting any younger and unfortunately that brings with it a certain amount of maintenance issues,” Warden Ruth Colbourne said.

Council President John Cannon questioned significant changes to the department’s salaries budget. He noted than salary overtime decreased by $150,000 while premium overtime increased from $384,000 to $601,466.

“I was wondering if one had any impact on the other,” he said.

Colbourne noted that more money would be used to compensate for overages in premium overtime.

“We recategorized that,” she said. “Because the actual premium overtime was so high in 2018 we wanted to try and have a number that was more realistic.”

Councilman Joe Holloway asked if officials had considered a solar panel installation at the facility. He noted the proposed budget included $210,000 for electric in the coming fiscal year.

“That’s definitely something we can look into,” Assistant Director of Administration Weston Young said.

A complete copy of the proposed operating budget is made available at www.wicomicocounty.org.

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.