SNOW HILL – Increases in proposed public safety and emergency services spending highlighted a Worcester County budget work session.
The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday met with department leaders to begin reviewing the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget. General fund revenues for the coming year are estimated at $211 million while proposed expenditures total $219 million.
The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and Worcester County Emergency Services are both seeking an increase in funding in the coming year in efforts to ensure public safety.
“We have over eight million visitors per summer and we need our residents and visitors to feel safe and secure if we want to maintain Worcester County as a national landmark,” Sheriff Matt Crisafulli said.
Crisafulli has proposed a budget of $9.7 million — a $2.2 million increase over the current year’s budget — for the coming fiscal year. The nearly 30% increase in funding would allow his department to hire three new deputies and convert seven part-time positions to full-time. The additional manpower will ensure that there’s adequate police coverage when other officers are at mandated training and will also enable the office to assist allied agencies better, according to Crisafulli.
“Outside of Ocean City, our office handled more than 50% of the total law enforcement calls for service last year and we project that that number’s going to increase due to a continued staffing issue throughout the county,” he said. “As I’ve mentioned previously, recruitment is a national issue that all law enforcement agencies are dealing with.”
He added that West Ocean City was growing and was at the point it needed a dedicated patrol unit.
Crisafulli’s proposed budget also includes funding for 18 replacement vehicles, vehicles for the potential three new deputies and funding for an armored rescue vehicle that could be used in a hostage standoff or natural disaster.
“I know some of the critics say this is militarizing the police however this is just not true,” he said. “Adding a rescue vehicle doesn’t change our approach to community based policing. These vehicles are used to protect deputies and civilians in hostile situations with armed subjects and to rescue people in all kinds of potentially dangerous conditions. The sheriff’s office can use the rescue vehicle as an ambulance during a hurricane. And when a severe weather tears through our community, what kind of vehicle do you want to respond to your neighborhood?”
He added that the vehicle could be used by officers responding to unruly crowds in Ocean City and would also be useful during hurricanes and potential flooding.
Emergency Services Director Billy Birch told the commissioners his department was seeking an additional $1,062,824 in the coming year, bringing the department’s budget to $3.8 million. Much of that increase—$580,000—would pay for capital equipment meant to address radio interference problems.
“That’s an awful lot of money,” Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said.
James Hamilton, the department’s assistant director, said the new equipment was needed to address interference problem the county’s radio system has been dealing with for several years.
“Our radio system is impacted by signals that travel farther than they should,” he said. “It’s getting worse, not better.”
Additional funding in the department’s proposed budget would allow for the hiring of six new employees.