SNOW HILL – Worcester County officials are moving forward with a budget that includes a one-cent property tax increase as well as a slight income tax rate increase.
Though county staff initially proposed increasing the existing $.835 property tax rate by two cents, the Worcester County Commissioners during the past two weeks have cut proposed spending enough to drop that increase to one cent. The proposed fiscal year 2020 spending plan also includes a half-percent income tax increase, which would bring the rate to 2.25%.
During budget work sessions May 14 and May 21, the commissioners cut roughly $1.5 million from the proposed 2020 budget. The tentative budget is now $201,375,620. The commissioners are expected to adopt the budget at their June 4 meeting.
Discussion of increased funding for the municipalities in the southern section of the county highlighted this week’s work session. Commissioner Josh Nordstrom, who is in his first term representing District 1, made a motion for the county to provide Snow Hill and Pocomoke each with the equivalent of 10% of the county’s table games revenue. Nordstrom pointed out that while Berlin, Ocean Pines and Ocean City benefited from casino revenues, Pocomoke and Snow Hill did not. He said 10% of table games revenue would equate to roughly $38,000 additional for each municipality.
Commissioner Jim Bunting said the commissioners had already agreed to use table games revenue for public safety costs, specifically to augment the grants provided to the county’s volunteer fire companies.
Nordstrom said he understood that and that he was proposing grants for Snow Hill and Pocomoke that would come from the general fund based on the equivalent of 10% of table games revenue. Bunting said Nordstrom was essentially proposing increasing the unrestricted grants the county provides to those towns.
“I did not ask for a big number here…,” Nordstrom said. “But it’s important. We do have people who come from the south, from Pocomoke but also from Virginia. They use 113 to get to the casino. Route 113 begins in Pocomoke it runs right through Snow Hill. We have fire and EMS people that have to respond to accidents, violations, anything that happens along the way.”
He said that many people wouldn’t even be able to get to the casino unless they used Route 113.
“You’re asking for impact I’m saying yes there is some…,” he said. “If the county’s going to benefit from this, the southern part of the county should benefit as well. … I don’t think it’s too much to ask. I think it’s important to show and recognize that there are hardworking people, good people, great people, taxpayers who live south of Berlin. Pocomoke and Snow Hill have some of the biggest problems in infrastructure in this county. Every little bit helps.”
Commissioner Diana Purnell said she didn’t think the proposal needed to be tied to casino revenues.
“My suggestion is if you want an increase in monies coming to Snow Hill and Pocomoke you need to not connect it with the grant from the casino,” she said.
Nordstrom said that was just a baseline for the amount.
Bunting said Snow Hill and Pocomoke were already seeing an extra $38,000 through the increase in the grants to their fire companies. Nordstrom agreed but said all the county’s fire companies were receiving that increase.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he was willing to provide the municipalities with money for infrastructure improvements but did not want to see their unrestricted funding increase.
“I have a problem with giving any of the municipalities ‘x’ amount of dollars they can do whatever they want with,” he said.
Bunting, however, said it wasn’t the county’s job to pay for municipal infrastructure.
“Whatever situation they’re in, they got there because — we talked about this before — they didn’t have a plan for maintenance,” he said.
Commissioner Ted Elder, who seconded Nordstrom’s motion, said the casino revenues needed to be distributed more fairly.
“To keep pouring the money into the rich section of the county and not acknowledge the needs of the poorer sections of the county, it just isn’t the way government should be working,” Elder said. “We need to put the money where it’s needed the most and I think it’s needed the most in Pocomoke and Snow Hill.”
Commissioner Bud Church said he took exception to Elder’s comment and addressed the financial impact Ocean City had on the county.
“They’re the goose that lays the golden egg,” he said. “I think everyone in the county benefits from Ocean City and the money they generate.”
Nordstrom’s motion failed, 2-5. He went on to make a second motion to provide Pocomoke with a one-time grant of $100,000 to assist with the town’s deteriorating infrastructure. It failed to get a second. Nordstrom’s third proposal, for the county to match the tax incentives being offered by Pocomoke to new businesses, also failed to get the support of his peers. In the proposed budget, Pocomoke is set to receive the same $465,000 unrestricted grant — the same amount provided to Berlin and Snow Hill — it typically receives.