SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County last week suggested budget cuts in two departments to fund other projects and events.
Last Thursday, the Wicomico County Council held a budget recap session to reevaluate the $148 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2020. The discussion followed weeks of work sessions with several county department heads to review budget requests for the coming year.
Councilman Marc Kilmer began the discussion by suggesting money be placed into the roads department to address drainage issues. He noted the county provided the department with $80,000 last year, but did not allocate any funds for the coming fiscal year.
“If we could find some money to do that again this year, I certainly wouldn’t be opposed,” he said.
Councilman Joe Holloway went a step further to share his concerns about the department’s overall proposed budget, which is nearly $1 million less than the current fiscal year.
“I’m upset the money was cut out of roads …,” he said. “I don’t hear people come in and complain about the airport, or this area or that area. The complaints I get are complaints about the condition of the roads.”
Councilman Bill McCain told the council he would like to see funds added to the Wicomico Public Library’s proposed budget. Kilmer, a liaison to the library board, noted operational costs at the library continued to increase.
“Part of the issue is their health care costs, much like the county, continue to go up,” he said. “Essentially, they are having to cut from other areas to fill in for the health care costs.”
Council President John Cannon also suggested the county contribute a cash donation to Salisbury’s National Folk Festival in the coming fiscal year. He said the county provided nearly $20,000 in in-kind services last year.
“It’s always concerned me that the county doesn’t take a greater role in that event,” he said. “It’s an economic driver. I think we should demonstrate some type of partnership …”
With suggestions on the table, the council then began to discuss ways to cut and potentially reallocate funds within the budget.
McCain suggested the council remove additional funding within the Board of Elections’ budget. This year, the department’s proposed budget includes a $32,000 increase for attorney contingency fees.
“It was pretty arbitrary,” he said.
Kilmer also suggested cuts be made to the executive department’s budget. He proposed eliminating $25,000 for contractual services, $20,000 for community promotions and $40,000 for a new public information officer position.
McCain, however, shared his concerns about eliminating $85,000 from the department’s budget. He also shared his support for creating a new position for a public information officer.
“It’s going to come across as the council came after the executive’s budget,” he said.
Kilmer, however, argued there was no rationale for funding the three budget items.
“If it’s not this, it will be something else,” he said.
Ultimately, the council conceptually agreed to cut $15,000 from the Board of Elections and $85,000 from the executive’s office and suggested $15,000 be reallocated to the library, $10,000 be reallocated to the National Folk Festival and $75,000 be reallocated to roads and drainage projects.
“This process is easier than it was when revenues were declining,” Holloway noted.
Councilman Larry Dodd, however, questioned if the council should consider future revenue declines. He noted the potential impacts of the state’s new minimum wage and a possible recession.
“A thing we haven’t discussed is a possible decline in revenues next year and the year after and minimum wage …,” he said. “I don’t want to wait until next year to discuss it.”
Council Attorney Bob Taylor also suggested language in the fiscal year 2020 budget that would place conditions for spending county appropriations on county department heads.
“The Court of Appeals has ruled that when you have the ability to cut items from the budget, either reduce them or remove them, you have the inherent power to condition how the appropriation money is spent,” Taylor said.
He said conditions in the budget would restrict the use of funds on department heads who are not confirmed. It would also restrict the terms of service for acting department heads to 90 days.
“That’s the proposed language for you to consider,” he said. “This should be stated as a condition in the budget.”
Taylor added the budget legislation would have to be amended to include the conditions.