Increased Public Safety Funding Sought At Budget Session

SNOW HILL – Requests for public safety and education funding highlighted the county’s annual public budget input session this week.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday invited the public to weigh in on the county’s proposed $218 million budget for the coming fiscal year. They’re set to begin work sessions to balance the budget, which currently features a shortfall of about $8 million, next week.

“This shortfall must be reconciled either through reducing requested expenditures, creating additional revenues or a combination of both,” said Weston Young, the county’s assistant chief administrative officer.

Young outlined the county’s estimated revenues and expenditures for the coming fiscal year. The bulk of requested expenditures, 51.1%, are related to education, while 17.9% are tied to public safety. Other costs include general government, health, public works, recreation and parks, municipal grants and retiree benefits. Most of the citizens who attended to share input focused on the importance of public safety and education funding. Melissa Mather recalled being held hostage when she lived on the other side of the state. She said if the county couldn’t protect its people, nothing else mattered.

“The evil that’s going to come here, from the cities, from other places, some of you may have never seen or witnessed,” she said. “It’s a very different world out there.”

Caryn Abbott, citing the recent death of Delmar Cpl. Keith Heacook, expressed similar concerns. She said law enforcement agencies needed the personnel and equipment required to do their jobs.

“I suggest you find more money to protect those that protect us all,” she said.

She questioned whether spending millions on broadband was worth risking public and officer safety. Abbott said a new organization she was involved with, Worcester Backs the Blue, was focused on supporting law enforcement officers and wanted to meet with the county in the near future.

“We have a right to be heard and you have a duty to the people,” she said.
Chris Larmore, president of FOP Lodge 50 and a sergeant with the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, also stressed the need for funding for public safety. He reminded the commissioners of the death of Brian K. Heller, a deputy killed in a car accident while responding to a police call in 2000.

“There were only two deputies working that night,” he said. “After 20 years, we’ve increased that number to three. One deputy for each end of the county, with a supervisor racing from one end of the county to the other to back those deputies up.”

He said the sheriff’s office needed the funding to convert the agency’s part-time positions to full-time positions so officers wouldn’t be stretched too thin.

“This is a huge financial burden for you to bear and pass on to the taxpayers of this county,” Larmore said. “We understand that. It’s not a want or desire — it’s an absolute need.”

Additional commenters during Tuesday’s hearing addressed education funding. Parents from the north end of the county as well as from Pocomoke and Snow Hill spoke in support of the school system. Superintendent Lou Taylor thanked the commissioners for their past support and asked them to continue providing the level of funding needed to support teacher retention, small class sizes, after-school programs and technology. He added that this year’s funding request was just 1.87% higher than last year’s request.

“Our budget request is entirely rooted in what we believe to be in the best interest of students here in Worcester County,” he said.

The commissioners are expected to begin balancing the proposed budget next week. Final budget adoption is scheduled for June 1.

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.