Budget Transfer To Fund Three Project Shortfalls

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County voted unanimously last week to introduce emergency legislation to fund budget shortfalls for three capital projects.

Last week, the Wicomico County Council voted unanimously to introduce an emergency legislative bill transferring roughly $2.5 million in prior year funds to continue work on three capital projects.

“Essentially, they are new expenses to go into the budget,” council attorney Bob Taylor said. “They total about $2,516,000 and change.”

In early November, county staff came before the council in an open work session to discuss budget shortfalls for three capital projects – the Morris Mill Dam construction project, the Salisbury airport water main extension, and the Wicomico County Detention Center roof replacement.

Officials said shortfalls in the budget for the Morris Mill Dam project occurred when crews were forced to revise their design to address a leak that was found in the dam. At the detention center, officials had to increase construction costs after learning the cost-saving method for replacing the roof would not adhere to the surface.

And at the airport, officials said additional funds would be needed to hire an inspector for the water main extension project.

To that end, emergency legislation was presented to the council last week for introduction. The bill would amend the fiscal year 2020 budget to include roughly $2.5 million from the prior year’s unassigned fund balance to pay for unanticipated project expenses.

“The county executive has certified that these are all emergency-type appropriations …,” Taylor said, adding that the county’s charter provides for emergency appropriations during the budget year. “There is a cap on that. It cannot exceed 5% of all appropriations in the budget. This $2.5 million … it doesn’t even come close to the 5%.”

Members of the county council said they supported emergency legislation to fund unanticipated expenses at Morris Mill Dam.

“There’s no question that the Morris Mill project is an emergency,” Council President Larry Dodd said. “I’d like to get that done.”

Councilman John Cannon, however, questioned if the remaining two projects were considered emergencies.

“I’m trying not to fly too loose with this,” he said. “We set some very careless precedents in the past. I understand where Morris Mill might be an emergency. I don’t know that the airport or the detention center could be considered emergency legislation.”

Assistant Director of Administration Weston Young, however, said the failing roof at the detention center had contributed to leaks throughout the building.

“If you don’t take care of your roof, everything below it is at risk,” he said.

And at the airport, the money was needed to hire an inspector before construction began on the water main extension project.

“The risk with drinking water is that if there’s any sort of contamination in the process of installation you could cause bacterial issues that could cause illnesses and such …,” Young said. “On Jan. 6 or 7, we plan to issue a notice to proceed with the project. It’s right around the corner, and we really want an inspector there on day one.”

Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg said higher revenues, combined with lower-than-anticipated spending, had produced a $4.1 million surplus last fiscal year.

“Essentially, what we are saying is instead of putting $4.1 million in our fund balance, which is already very strong, we’ve got this need,” he said.

With no further discussion, the council voted 7-0 to introduce the emergency legislative bill. A public hearing will be held on Jan. 7 at 6 p.m.

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.