SALISBURY – County officials this week adopted a $161 million budget for the coming fiscal year.
On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted unanimously to approve a spending plan of $161,144,944 for fiscal year 2022, but not before amending the budget to eliminate more than $330,000 in contingency funding from two county departments.
“If you need the money, you come to the council and we approve it,” Councilman Ernie Davis said.
In a review of the proposed budget late last month, officials shared their concerns regarding separate contingency funds that had been added to a few departments’ budgets.
In the Wicomico County Board of Elections budget, for example, the administration included $201,653 in contingency to fund new state mandates regarding elections. And within the Tri-County Council’s budget, the administration added roughly $135,000 in contingency to account for any emergency expenses.
When asked if the department would need council approval to use its contingency, Finance Director Pam Oland said it would only need the administration’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 at the time.
In its approval of the budget this week, a motion to remove contingency funds totaling $201,653 from the elections budget passed 6-1, with Councilman Bill McCain opposed. Councilman John Cannon said he was uncomfortable with the idea of having a separate contingency fund within the department.
“Going back to the administration does not mean going back to the council,” he said. “So it’s not something that would be addressed publicly.”
Officials noted departments such as the county council, county executive’s office and community promotions typically held separate contingency accounts. This year, the executive’s office proposed a separate contingency fund for the Board of Elections, Tri-County Council and volunteer ambulance, which includes $960,000 from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
“It’s an additional $80,000 per volunteer organization,” Oland said. “So instead of mixing into lines they already had, so it didn’t get confused in future years, we put in a contingency line so it was on its own and recognizable for what it was.”
Councilman Joe Holloway said he didn’t have a problem with separate contingency funds that are earmarked for a specific use. He did, however, oppose the separate contingency funds for elections and Tri-County Council.
“If there’s something out there that’s earmarked, we’re fine with that …,” he said. “But if it’s contingency, where we don’t know what the plans are, that’s the issue.”
He noted departments seeking additional money could come before the council and request a transfer from the county’s contingency fund.
“I don’t recall us ever turning down anybody when the proof is there it’s needed,” he said.
Holloway’s motion to move $135,000 from the Tri-County Council’s contingency fund to the county’s general contingency fund passed with Cannon, McCain and Councilman Josh Hastings opposed.
“The Tri-County Council’s already being funded less than what their original request was …,” McCain said. “They’ve got to come to the administration. They can’t just spend that money.”
After further discussion, and several corrections, the council voted unanimously to approve the fiscal year 2022 budget as amended. The council also voted to adopt a property tax rate of 91 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
The next fiscal year begins on July 1. To view the budget in its entirety, visit wicomicocounty.org.