Wicomico Council Reviewing Individual Budget Requests

SALISBURY – A review of funding requests for the coming fiscal year highlighted recent work sessions on the 2022 budget.

Last Friday, the Wicomico County Council began the process of reviewing department budgets ahead if its annual budget adoption in June.

Last month, Acting County Executive John Psota submitted a proposed operating budget and capital budget for fiscal year 2022. The spending plan features a general fund budget of $161,144,944 to support the county’s core service needs of public safety, public health, education and infrastructure.

Finance Director Pam Oland told county leaders last week the proposed budget includes federal grant funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. While Wicomico will receive $20 million – split equally over the course of two years – she noted only $4 million had been budgeted in fiscal year 2022. The remaining $6 million will remain available for future use.

“Because there are certain requirements on how we can spend it, and we don’t know what those requirements are and haven’t identified ways to spend it, we don’t know if we’re ever going to be able to recognize it as revenue,” she said.

County leaders spent hours last Friday reviewing budgets from county administration, the state’s attorney’s office, elections and purchasing. They also sat down with leadership staff from the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office to discuss the department’s proposed $14.1 million budget.

Captain Tod Richardson noted the budget represents a $50,000 increase in operating expenses and a $1,043,694 increase in total expenses.

“We’ve been operating on a 0% or 2% budget for numerous years now,” he said. “We’re expending almost 100% of our budget now, so there’s not a lot of hidden monies that are turned back in.”

Richardson said this year’s budget includes funding for Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) contract negotiations and a new public safety building. It also includes a $40,000 increase for vehicle maintenance, although the department did not include funding for new vehicles.

“This is a year where we have a large capital budget and an FOP contract that needs to go through,” he said. “So we had to make choices on what we could ask for and what we couldn’t ask for, and we deferred vehicles for a year.”

Councilman John Cannon, however, encouraged the department and administration to reexamine the budget and include funding for new vehicles.

“Safety is the highest priority, especially with the deputies,” he said. “I think it needs to be reconsidered with the acting county executive.”

Council members last week also reviewed budget requests from the volunteer fire departments. Wicomico County Volunteer Firefighters Association President John Hilton noted the cost of replacing fire apparatus continued to increase.

“That goes up every year by a minimum of 5%,” he said. “Right now, I can promise you there are multiple companies in this county that need to replace units.”

Oland noted the coming year’s budget includes a $5,695 increase for volunteer fire departments and a nearly $1 million increase for volunteer ambulance. She noted $80,000 in American Rescue Plan funding would be distributed to each company to replace fundraising efforts.

“I placed it all in ambulance,” she said, “but it can be used by either side, ambulance or fire.”

Sharptown Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bill White asked that the council continue to support its funding requests.

“The only thing we are asking is that you support what’s been presented to you,” he said. “As everybody knows, with COVID everybody took a big hit from it, especially us with volunteer fundraising and so forth. That’s how we operate. Ninety percent of our purchasing is done through fundraising.”

Wicomico Public Library Head Administrator Cheryl Nardiello also met with council members to discuss her department’s proposed budget of $1.5 million, which represents a 4% increase from the prior year.

“That increase will cover expenses that we’re having trouble covering for minimum wage increases,” she said. “We’ve been flat-funded for the past three years, and we’ve had no increases for salaries from the county.”

When asked if the budget had funding for a new Pittsville branch, library leaders said it did not. Oland, however, noted the county’s capital improvement plan included funding for analysis in fiscal year 2023.

“That’s still something we want to do …,” said Michele Canopii, chair of the library’s board of trustees. “It’s still hopeful that we will expand in Pittsville, in the next five years.”

Council members continued budget deliberations this week with department heads from emergency services, public works, corrections and emergency services, to name a few. Work sessions will conclude next week after a meeting with the Wicomico County Board of Education.

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.