SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County this week adopted a budget for the coming fiscal year.
On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted 4-3, with Councilman John Cannon, Councilman Joe Holloway and Council President Larry Dodd opposed, to adopt the annual budget for fiscal year 2021.
The $153 million spending plan presented to the council in April was amended this week to include $1.05 million in reductions and $1.03 million in recommended reallocations.
Officials said any recommended increases not supported by the executive would be placed in the county’s contingency fund.
In a recap session last month, the Wicomico County Council discussed cutting $2,908,200 and reassigning $1,147,921 to other line items in the coming year’s budget. The remaining $1,760,279 would be moved to the county’s contingency account.
“The engine behind this whole thing is the fact that we are trying to be as conservative as possible,” Cannon said at the time. “We have some counties cutting 5% to 10% of their budget. Baltimore is cutting more than our entire budget from theirs. So we are trying to be as conservative as possible in anticipation of what may develop here.”
In this week’s council meeting, however, Councilman Bill McCain made a motion to amend the proposed budget by making $1,057,912 in total reductions and $1,033,139 in recommended reallocations, leaving $24,773 to be added to the county’s contingency account.
The amendment eliminated the assistant internal auditor position and a new chief financial officer position and included a $25,000 reduction in contractual services, an $80,000 reduction in new auto leases and a $783,810 reduction from transfer reserves to the airport, among other things.
“The reason for that reduction is we are assuming the CARES Act funds will be available from the FAA,” he said. “So that we not be needed. We can reallocate that.”
Of the $1,057,912 in proposed cuts, McCain suggested $1,033,139 be reallocated to other line items, including a $265,000 increase for prosecutor and investigator positions within the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office, a $200,000 increase for Shore Transit, a $25,000 increase for the Meals on Wheels program and a $500,000 increase for roads, maintenance and blacktop.
Although the council last month had suggested a $480,635 cut in the proposed cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for the coming year, McCain’s motion included a 5% COLA that was initially proposed by the county executive.
“This amendment is very straight forward, very simple,” he said. “It’s a proposal that’s a positive message to the executive office, it’s a positive message to our county employees that are very dedicated and work hard for this county, and it’s a positive message to our community.”
Cannon, however, disagreed with the proposed changes, which were presented to council members in writing prior to McCain’s motion.
“I’ve had about one minute to look at this,” he said. “I’m more prepared to go through the process of each individual cut as reviewed at the last meeting.”
Holloway also disagreed with the amendment. He said the county should better prepare for coming financial difficulties.
“This is going to be an easy budget this year compared to what we are going to see next year …,” he said. “We need to be conservative with this budget and putting the money we cut into reserves.”
McCain’s motion passed 4-3. A subsequent motion to adopt the budget as amended also passed 4-3, with Cannon, Holloway and Dodd opposed.
The council on Tuesday also voted unanimously to approve the fiscal year 2021-2025 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The five-year capital planning document included amendments restoring funds for three board of education projects.
The council voted 7-0 to restore $7 million in funding for the Beaver Run school construction project in fiscal year 2021 and $281,000 in funding for the Westside Intermediate roof replacement project. The council on Tuesday also voted to restore $2.5 million in funding for the Mardela Middle and High School renovation and addition in fiscal year 2021, but not without some concerns.
“If we were to make this adjustment, my concern would be this would begin the wheels rolling,” Cannon said. “This $2.5 million for 2021 is going to commit us to another $6 million in 2022, $.8.5 million in 2023, $9 million in 2024 and $8.98 million in 2025.”
McCain, however, noted that the project would only get more expensive the longer the county waits.
“This project is not going away,” he said. “That’s what the bond market is for …. It’s only going to cost us more money the more we continue to kick this project down the road.”
Cannon agreed, adding that the CIP was a planning document.
“It doesn’t mean we are going to go out and spend this money next month …,” he said. “I agree with Councilman McCain. Let’s put it in there and let’s see if we can’t move this ball forward.”
The council this week also set a tax rate of $.9286 per $100 of assessed value for fiscal year 2021.