Worcester’s Budget Holds Steady Tax Rate, Grows Spending By 6%

Worcester’s Budget Holds Steady Tax Rate, Grows Spending By 6%
File photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – Worcester County officials adopted a $216 million budget for the coming fiscal year.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday voted 5-2 to adopt a $216,509,211 operating budget for fiscal year 2022. The budget, a 6% increase over the current year’s spending plan, maintains the current property tax rate of 84.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Though a budget shortfall was predicted earlier this spring, officials spent the past several weeks making cuts and agreed at the last budget work session to eliminate a $3 million shortfall with surplus funds from the current fiscal year.

“At this point the county’s revenues and expenditures are now balanced at $216,509,211,” said Harold Higgins, the county’s chief administrative officer.

The adopted budget reflects an increase of $12,188,580, or 6%, over the current year’s budget. The $216 million budget includes $97 million for the Worcester County Board of Education.

The commissioners, who typically vote on the school system budget separately from the overall budget, voted unanimously to approve the education spending Tuesday. They followed that up with a 5-2 vote, with Commissioners Jim Bunting and Ted Elder opposed, to adopt the general fund budget.

After the meeting Bunting said he felt he shouldn’t vote in support of the budget when he’d voted against several of the items included in it.

“I do believe it was a decent budget,” he said. “I just thought it’d not be proper to vote for the budget with the (work session) votes recorded as they were.”

A press release issued by the county this week highlights key points of the $216 million spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

“The FY22 budget maintains the real property tax rate of 84.5 cents per $100 of assessed value and the county’s local income tax rate of 2.25%,” it reads. “Worcester County residents will continue to benefit from the lowest income tax rate and the secod lowest real property tax rate as compared to all other counties in Maryland.  This fiscally conservative budget maintains funding for valuable public services residents can count on, such as public safety, education, infrastructure and existing social service programs.”

The following represents data provided by the county in a press release:

Projected General Fund Revenues

Based on the Real Property tax rate of $0.845, net property taxes increased by $3,326,116. The Homestead Credit cap remains unchanged at 3% and is estimated to be $1,201,041 for the county’s qualified principal resident homeowners effective July 1, 2021.

Income tax revenue increased by $3.5 million and is estimated at $30 million and remains the same rate at 2.25%. Revenues are based on the market conditions and estimates for the current year. The pass through to municipalities is included for $2.3 million.

Other local taxes increased by $3.38 million for the following: $2 million recordation taxes and $1.5 million in transfer taxes both based on actual trends and market conditions. A decrease of $20,000 in Admission & Amusement Taxes and $100,000 in Room Tax collections for Unincorporated areas in the county, both estimates are based on the current trends due to the ongoing pandemic.

State shared revenues increased by $657,635 and include an increase of $705,148 in 911 fees based on a raise in the County 911 fee of $.75 for a total of $1.50 for each accessible service line which will become effective July 1, 2021.  A decrease of $47,513 is due to the State estimate for Highway User revenues.

Licenses and Permits decreased by $64,306 overall.  Significant changes include decreases of $25,000 for liquor licenses, $23,000 for Traders licenses and $16,606 for health permits. An increase of $24,000 is included for the occupational licenses which is a biannual license.

Charges for cervices decreased by $2,608,475 with a decrease of $2,500,000 as the most significant change to Jail Use ICE housing and $20,000 in Jail use work release based on current trends. Other decreases include $10,000 in Sheriff Paper Service fees, $15,500 for Library use charges, $15,000 in Public Works pipe sales and $47,000 for Seacrets Security by the Sheriff’s Office.

Interest on investments decreased by $650,000 based on current rates of return.

Other Revenues decreased by $81,718 with a decrease of $110,000 in Retiree Drug Subsidy and an increase of $27,800 for rent revenue in Boat Landings.

Federal grants project an overall increase of $5,671 due to increased estimates for Homeland Security Grant revenue.

State grants decreased overall by $939,071. Increases include $450,000 in Program Open Space for Recreation and $82,107 for Police Protection Grant while decreases include $670,000 in Program Open Space for Parks and $980,733 in State Aid for Bridges only requested in the current year.

Transfers in increased by $5,686,428.   Prior year surplus increased by $4,325,935 for the following: $1,210,260 for the purchase of vehicles and equipment for county departments, $1,006,859 for supplemental funding for 10 EMS companies, and $2,108,816 for operating expenses.

Casino/Local Impact Grant Funds increased by $1,360,493 for the following: $2,700 for debt payment for the Worcester Technical High School in FY22, and $1,357,793 for one-time public safety capital purchases.

Major General Fund Expenditures

A summary of significant increases and decreases for county departments and agencies in approved expenditures include the following:

State’s Attorney Office increased by $231,306; increased by $194,150 in salaries and includes a new Investigator and Assistant State’s Attorney; increased by $35,000 for an SUV for use by the Investigator to assist with on-call liquor board investigations.

Elections Office increased by $170,623 and includes a Gubernatorial early voting and Primary Election in June 2022. Increased by $17,204 in salaries for reclassification by the State Board of Elections of certain positions in FY22. Increased by $148,822 in supplies and materials mainly due to increased voting machine leases, supplies and new poll books.

Sheriff’s Office increased by $1,952,507; increased by $564,282 in salaries and includes three new full-time deputies, converting three part-time civil deputies to full-time, and converting four part-time school security deputies to full-time; Increased by $182,002 in supplies and materials for new hires which includes law enforcement equipment, bullet proof vests, and uniforms; maintenance and services increased by $84,657 and includes $63,000 for outside labor to outfit new vehicles; increased by $6,000 for education training for professional development; increased by $1,115,566 in capital equipment of which $741,000 is for 19 new vehicles and includes $374,566 for vehicle equipment.

Emergency Services increased by $1,127,495; Increased by $341,824 in salaries and includes 4 Communication Call Takers for the Next Gen 911 initiative and 2 Electronic Services Specialist positions; increased by $204,921 in supplies and materials for the following: $46,500 for radio equipment needs for portables and mobile radios and $190,523 increase for the Harris radio service contract; increased by $580,000 in public safety equipment for a one-time project for a P-25 radio interference mitigation upgrade.

Fire Company Grant is included for $2,520,000 based on the current funding of $250,000 to each fire company and the supplement for $20,000.

Ambulance Grants is included for $6,095,632, an increase of $1,083,659 and includes supplemental funding for 10 EMS companies to assist with staffing.

Public Works Maintenance Division increased by $310,514; increased by $173,134 in salaries and includes a new Plumber position and cross training due to a retirement; increased by $136,129 in capital for three utility trucks and a replacement Toro mower.

Other Social Services increased by $190,000 for the Cricket Center to be used towards building a new child advocacy center.

Wor-Wic Community College increased by $112,120.  The Worcester County local funding allocation is 28.03%.

Recreation Department increased by $663,097; increased by $118,927 in salaries and includes a new Recreation Program Manager position and reclassifications; increased by $513,570 in supplies and materials and includes $20,000 additional funds for tournament fees and $500,000 in Program Open Space grant funds for an addition to the Recreation Center; increased by $43,500 in capital and includes a new vehicle and a retractable batting cage for the recreation center.

Parks Department decreased by $719,171;d decreased by $942,487 for Park improvements from the State for Program Open Space funds over the current year and increased by $12,000 in equipment lease for a GPS paint robot for fields; increased by $59,812 in maintenance and services mainly due to the updated lease payment for the Northern Worcester Athletic Complex; increased by $135,600 in capital and includes two pickup trucks, a zero turn lawnmower, a utility vehicle with field groomer, and a Vermeer wood chipper.

Taxes shared with towns increased by $297,100; increased by $300,000 for the pass through of the Income Tax distribution to the Towns.

Grants to Towns increased by $212,133; increased by $259,133 in grants to towns over the prior year; decreased by $47,000 for restricted fire grant to the Towns based on the current formula.

Insurance & Benefits increased by $3,254,102; decreased by $100,425 due to the renewed contract for the County medical and prescription insurance benefit without an increase allocated to each plan type; increased by $2,731,879 for Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) for a total of $8,231,879.  Additional OPEB is provided to the Board of Education for total County OPEB funding of $11,100,025 in FY22; increased by $425,946 for the retirement plan based on State rates; increased by $177,273 for social security taxes based on the estimated payroll; increased by $10,078 for Workers’ Compensation insurance plan; increased by $11,422 for Property & Liability insurance due to an increase in premium; decreased by $2,071 for the State’s Retirement administration fee.

Debt Service decreased by $222,213 ; decreased due to the 2004 MDE loan payment as compared to current year.

Salary accounts increased to include a 3.5% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for county employees and longevity pay for those eligible.

Board Of Education

The county allocation for the Board of Education’s (BOE) operating budget is $97,002,221, an increase of $2,390,982 over the current year adopted budget as shown below. School construction debt is paid by the county on behalf of the BOE.  It is not reflected in the BOE’s budget; however, it is included in the county’s operating budget. The BOE’s approved operating budget of $97,002,221 plus debt service of $12,469,356 totals $109,471,577 or 50.6% of the vounty’s total estimated revenue.

The Board of Education (BOE) budget includes the following salary adjustments for FY22: the salary package for the BOE reflects a payroll increase of $1,812,981, which includes a step, longevity step for those eligible, a 1% COLA for Teachers and 1.5% COLA for Support Staff employees; the bus contracts account increase over FY21 is $66,393 and reflects a 1% increase to bus contractor’s hourly, mileage and PVA rates effective July 1, 2021 for $43,930.  Also included is the request for several contractors to purchase new buses for $22,463; and starting teacher pay would increase 1% from $47,322 to $47,795.

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.