Wicomico Officials Review Proposed $161M Spending Plan

SALISBURY – County officials last week concluded their review of the proposed budget for fiscal year 2022, but not before a lengthy discussion on contingency accounts, maintenance of effort funding and proposed cuts.

Last Friday, the Wicomico County Council held a special meeting to review the proposed budget for fiscal year 2022. The spending plan, which was submitted last month, 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.

Going down the list of departments last week, council members shared their concerns regarding the Wicomico County Board of Elections budget, which had increased from $1.4 million in fiscal year 2021 to nearly $1.7 million in fiscal year 2022.

Finance Director Pam Oland said the increase was related to state mandates. She said additional money was included in the department’s separate contingency fund.

“As we discussed, departments at times have contingency within their budget,” she explained. “In the past, because they have underspent their budget, we did give them their total requests, but we put in a line item that they have to come back and ask for a transfer, so they can’t just spend without any oversight … This is a way to have control over them and know what they’re spending.”

When asked if the department would need council approval to use its contingency, Oland said it would only need the executive’s approval.

“We felt it appropriate to give them the increase they were looking for but to give us some control over where that increase is,” she said.

Councilman John Cannon said he didn’t support the idea of separate contingency funds for different departments. He argued departments could come before the council and seek a transfer from the county’s contingency fund if needed.

“I don’t feel comfortable having a contingency within a department,” he said. “The budget is a budget, and that’s the purpose of it.”

Oland, however, told council members contingency funds were not included in every budget.

“They are there because unexpected things happen,” she said. “And with this one, we actually have expected things to happen, we just don’t know the value of them yet.”

Education officials also came before the council last week to review their budget for the coming fiscal year. Wicomico County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin told county leaders changes to the state’s funding formula had increased Wicomico’s maintenance of effort funding.

“We got that number finalized yesterday from the state,” she said.

Comptroller Jesse Reid noted the new calculation resulted in a nearly $1.2 million increase in maintenance of effort funding. As a result, Wicomico’s funding commitment would need to increase from $47.6 million to $48.8 million.

“Our overall state funding is still down about $1.036 million,” he added.

Officials pointed out that state aid had decreased as a result of reduced enrollment.

“We know a majority of those students either went to homeschooling or a great majority of them were prekindergarten students and they remained in private daycare,” Hanlin said.

Reid also highlighted the school system’s capital requests, which include $1.7 million for a new roof at Westside Intermediate, $10 million for an addition and renovation at Mardela Middle and High, and $4.7 million for the replacement of Beaver Run Elementary.

“This is the final county construction allocation for that school,” he said.

During its budget recap session last week, the council also discussed possible cuts to the Wicomico Public Library and the Tri-County Council, which was seeking an additional $288,000. Councilman Joe Holloway said he supported moving that money to police, fire or emergency medical services.

“I don’t see a real strong need for extra funding for them,” he said, “so I think we should move it out.”

Cannon, however, disagreed, noting the additional $288,000 would restore the county’s funding commitments from previous years.

“We’re just getting them back to square one,” he said.

Cannon and Councilmen Bill McCain and Josh Hastings said they had no interest in cuts being made to the coming year’s budget.

“I think this is the best budget I’ve seen in years and the best process I’ve seen in years,” Hastings said.

As a result of a typing error, Oland noted the budget would be revised to include a $396,000 increase for volunteer fire.

The council is currently slated to adopt the budget on June 1, though officials noted the deadline could be extended to June 15 by resolution. The fiscal year 2022 budget goes into effect on July 1.

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.