The year after an election is always tough on property owners. It’s when taxes are typically increased to help balance budgets facing increased expenditures. Local property owners in Worcester County are going to be especially hit hard this year because property taxes have been raised by Berlin, Ocean City and county governments.
In Worcester County, the property tax rate will jump a penny, from $.745 per $100 of assessed valuation to $.845 (resulting in $5 million in new revenue), and the income tax will increase by half of a percent, from 1.75% to 2.25% (bringing in $3.5 million in new dollars). For Worcester, thanks largely to pricey land values close to the coast, the property tax rate is the second lowest in the state and the income tax rate remains the lowest. With those boastful designations in their cap, it seemed to be an easy decision this year for the commissioners to raise taxes. History shows us the commissioners, like most elected officials in government, usually raise taxes in the first budget after an election year. The hope being voters will forget about the increase by the time they vote again in three years. It’s a philosophy that rings true traditionally.
There were a few things I found interesting about the county’s budget and the process.
Of the $201 million budget, approximately $91.6 million in county funds will be dedicated to schools. This year’s allocation represents a 4.7% increase over last year’s education spending. It’s clear support for the school system among the commissioners is there. For the first time I can remember, the commissioners approved the school board budget (unanimously) and the general budget (6-1 with Commissioner Joe Mitrecic opposed) in separate votes to confirm the dedication to public education.
Staying with education, according to the new budget, it costs approximately $20,052 to educate a child in Worcester County. That number is derived from an estimated student population of 6,810 and approximately $136 million in total funding for the school system to operate.
I was surprised to see Mitrecic was the lone no vote on the budget. I thought Commissioner Josh Nordstrom would vote against the budget as well since he has expressed dismay over his home district of Pocomoke being turned down for funds on several fronts. Nordstrom indicated he was flirting with not voting for the proposed room tax increase as a show of disappointment over his colleagues not supporting his requests. Last month he did not vote for the enabling legislation for the room tax increase. The commissioners must unanimously approve the room tax increase or it will not happen. My guess is Nordstrom will vote for the room tax increase because it’s the right thing to do.
Since being elected five years ago, Mitrecic has voted against the budget because he believes the county is not giving enough money back to Ocean City, which he represents. He remains convinced Ocean City should be receiving considerably more funding from the county because of the tax different concept, or duplication of services. My guess is Mitrecic will always vote against the county budget because Ocean City will never get compensated by the county for the services it pays for but never uses, such as solid waste, public works and emergency services. It’s a political hot potato with no solutions county officials and state legislators can stomach because any change will have disastrous impacts on property owners living outside of Ocean City in the form of major tax increases.
“It’s not really a good long-term solution so we’re really looking for something more permanent at this point.”
That’s what Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Jacqui Seiple told a group of fishermen, elected officials and citizens at last week’s meeting on the Inlet shoaling problem and the current plan of attack involving periodic dredging.
Included in last week’s presentation on the Inlet were three potential long-term solutions – building a structure to alter patterns for sediment deposit, deepening the channel and realigning the channel to deeper water. The estimated cost to address the shoaling has been put at $8.5 million with total spending not to exceed $10 million. As far as a timeline for work, the scope of which has not been decided, officials reported executing something “more permanent” would likely come in 2021. Nonetheless, the meeting coupled with the presentations left many in attendance content a commitment is there to address this chronic problem once and for all. Senator Mary Beth Carozza expressed relief at that prospect.
“We’re actually focused on solutions tonight and not just gathering together to talk about the problem,” she said. “I wanted to give some context to those who haven’t been participating in the meetings the last four years or so. We really have made progress and we’re now at the solution stage.”
Let’s hope that momentum continues in the near future.