SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners approved a $201 million budget Tuesday that includes slight property and income tax rate increases.
The commissioners voted 6-1, with Commissioner Joe Mitrecic opposed, to approve a fiscal year 2020 budget that includes a one-cent property tax increase and a half-a-percent income tax increase.
“I would like to thank the commissioners for their hard work and dedication to this process,” Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins said. “I’d also like to thank our department heads and our agency heads for their continued support during this process.”
The $201,285,552 budget is 5.9% more than the fiscal year 2019 budget. Significant increases include $4.5 million in additional funding for Other Post-Employment Benefits, $3 million for Worcester County Board of Education operating expenses and new debt service for Showell Elementary School, $1.6 million for waste collection and $1.1 more for public safety. The budget also includes funding for a cost of living adjustment as well as step increment or longevity pay for county employees.
To fund the increased expenses, the budget includes a property tax rate of $.845 per $100 of assessed value effective July 1, 2019 and an income tax rate of 2.25% effective Jan. 1, 2020. Even with the increases, the county continues to have the lowest income tax rate in Maryland and the second lowest property tax rate in the state, according to the commissioners.
Mitrecic said that he was voting against the budget, as he has the last several years, because the county still wasn’t providing Ocean City the appropriate level of funding. He did however praise the commissioners and county staff for their efforts in developing the budget.
“I think it was great overall,” he said. “I, of course, voted against the budget the last four years because of the tax differential situation for Ocean City and will do so again today.”
He went on to say he regretted supporting some of the budget cuts he had during recent weeks.
“I think that I’ve been shortsighted during this budget process, and I’ve gone along with cuts that, looking back on it now I don’t feel comfortable with,” he said. “We worked hard and made a lot of cuts. We made cuts that aren’t going to go away in next year’s budget. They’re not going to go away in two years, they’re not going to go away in five years. These are items that our department heads asked for, these are positions our department heads asked for. I don’t think that they did that frivolously.”
He said he expected the county to face the same challenges going forward as it had this year.
“I think that possibly my shortsightedness in this budget is kicking the can down the road so to speak, and I apologize to the department heads and the employees of the county who have gone along with some of these cuts that were made,” he said. “I can’t support this budget again I think that we’re going down a road that, if we keep kicking that can down the road sooner or later it’s going to fall in a big hole. I don’t want to be a part of that.”
The Worcester County Board of Education’s budget, which is funded primarily by the county, was approved unanimously in a separate vote. Nearly $91 million of the board of education’s $112 million budget comes from Worcester County. The school system’s spending plan for fiscal year 2020 includes a salary package of $2.4 million, which includes a step, longevity step and salary scale adjustments as negotiated with a 3% cost of living adjustment for teachers and support staff. Starting teacher pay increases to $45,594.