County Explores Options To Change Funding Formula

County Explores Options To Change Funding Formula
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SNOW HILL – County officials agreed to hire legal counsel to fight what they consider an unfair education funding formula.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday voted 5-2 to try to find legal counsel to find a way to address the state’s funding formula for education. The formula currently in place will require Worcester County to spend an additional $1.8 million on education this year.

“It’s time for us to stand up for Worcester County,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Chip Bertino brought up the issue of the state’s education funding formula, which has long been criticized by local officials. Bertino said this year the county was required to spend an additional $1.8 million above maintenance of effort (MOE) funding. Over the last five years, the county has been required to allocate an additional $10 million in education funding.

“It’s not right,” Bertino said. “We continue to be the recipient of this unfairness. I asked that we seek legal counsel from a law firm that could handle this to let us know what our options are as a county to be able to have the state look at this again.”

Bertino said he wanted staff to find a law firm that could explore potential options for Worcester County to address the situation.

Commissioner Josh Nordstrom agreed and said he thought the local delegation should meet with the commissioners to discuss “the proliferation of these unfunded mandates they ask county taxpayers to pay for.”

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic agreed that the funding formula was unfair but said he understood the difficult position of the delegation, as they represented other counties as well as Worcester.

“What could help us could in fact hurt them,” he said. “They are walking a very tedious line to say the least.”

Nevertheless, he said a diplomatic approach might be better.

“I don’t think that suing the state would be a productive move for this,” he said.

Bertino said he wasn’t advocating for a lawsuit, but wanted to see what the county’s options were.

“I agree diplomacy would be a much better route to go but the Kirwan Commission has failed miserably,” Bertino said. “They were charged five years ago to reevaluate the funding formula. They totally ignored that and did absolutely nothing about it, so we are left to our own devices. All I’m asking for is to see if we have any options.”

Bunting said Worcester spent more than other counties per student and yet the state had forced an escalator clause on it.

“We’re a home rule county,” he said. “I know I’m a little radical, but I’d be willing to tell the state we’re not going to pay it and that’s it. See what happens.”

Mitrecic agreed in theory, but didn’t think it was an option.

“I say we run our education program like we want to run it and don’t take any money from the state,” he said. “Certainly we’re not going to lose that much in the long run but I’m not sure that that’s an option.”

Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young said that the flawed funding formula was something the lobbyist the county was in the process of hiring could address as well.

“The folks who write the formula need to take a drive through the southern end of the county and realize it’s not Rockville, it’s not Columbia,” he said. “We’re not the richest county but we are taxed as the richest county.”

Mitrecic said that was because of Worcester’s tax rates.

“As long as we have the lowest property tax rate in the state of Maryland and some other tax rates in the state of Maryland they will continue to use that against us,” he said.

Bunting said that shouldn’t be the case.

“Taxes cover your expenses and they’re doing that,” he said. “We don’t need to raise taxes if we don’t have to.”

The commissioners voted 5-2, with Mitrecic and Commissioner Ted Elder opposed, to explore hiring legal counsel.

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.