Worcester Holds Virtual Hearing Input On Proposed Budget

Worcester Holds Virtual Hearing Input On Proposed Budget
“Our focus was to direct resources to those things we believe will have the most impact for our students,” said Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor in presenting his budget. File image

SNOW HILL –  Funding requests from cultural groups, the Worcester County Developmental Center and Worcester County Public Schools highlighted a budget input session this week.

The Worcester County Commissioners hosted their annual public budget input hearing Tuesday through the video conferencing program Zoom. Though less than a dozen citizens provided comment, the commissioners stressed the importance of the ongoing budget development process.

“This is the most important thing that county government does as far as I’m concerned,” Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said. “If you have an opinion you need to voice it with your personal commissioner.”

Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins said the initially proposed budget had been adjusted as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis. Estimated revenues were adjusted from $209 million to $205,694,286 and staff made an “aggressive” round of cuts to drop expenditure requests from $221.3 million to $205,966,790.

“Today, much of the county’s energy and fiscal issues are being directed to the public health and COVID-19,” Higgins said. “However, other fiscal year 2021 issues are still of importance to us.”

Education funding remains a key issue. Higgins said the lasting impacts of COVID-19, such as its effects on growth and the local economy, also needed to be considered.

“Many of the county’s past troubles are still unresolved,” he said, adding that those included retaining qualified employees, dealing with the state’s wealth formula and its impact on the local share of education funding and the high cost of the county’s solid waste operation.

When it came time for public comments, several county residents submitted written comments asking for financial support of Furnace Town. Stacey Weisner, president and CEO of the Delmarva Discovery Center & Museum, asked for $30,000—an increase of $10,000 over last year—because the museum has been asked to take over the Sturgis One Room School.

“We think it adds a lot to our museum,” she said.

Jack Ferry, executive director of the Worcester County Developmental Center, thanked the county for its past support and said he hoped that would continue in spite of the current dire situation. He said the center provided residential service, day programs and community based activities for individuals with intellectual disabilities and had been doing so for 47 years.

“We are the only brick and mortar facility providing those services in Worcester County,” he said.

Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor thanked the commissioners for their support of the school system, which he pointed out continued to lead in several categories in the state. The board of education’s operating budget request for fiscal year 2021 is $94.6 million.

“Our budget request is entirely rooted in what we believe to be in the best interest of the students of Worcester County Public Schools,” Taylor said. “Our focus was to direct resources to those things we believe will have the most impact for our students.”

Taylor said challenges for the school system included recruiting and retaining qualified teachers, maintaining small class sizes and providing after-school and summer school programs.

Other written public comments submitted for Tuesday’s hearing included a plea for no property tax increase from a Snow Hill resident and a request for an adjustment to the Ocean Pines Association annual grant from an Ocean City resident.

“As the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) has received a PPP grant in the amount of $1.143 million I would hope that this amount is deducted from any grant being considered by the commissioners for OPA,” wrote Ocean City resident J. Franklin Knight. “The OPA is selfishly retaining these funds to the detriment of many local businesses that have a far greater need.”

The commissioners are expected to adopt a budget and tax rate on June 2. They have budget work sessions scheduled for May 12, May 19 and May 26.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.