Wicomico Council Kicks Off FY23 Budget Work Sessions

SALISBURY – Discussions on road paving, fuel costs and litter crews highlighted a budget work session last week with public works officials.

In a special meeting last week, the Wicomico County Council kicked off the first round of work sessions for the fiscal year 2023 budget by meeting with public works officials. The department’s proposed operating budget includes $1.07 million for public works, $9.5 million for its solid waste enterprise division and $13.04 million for its roads division.

In his comments to department heads last week, Councilman Joe Holloway questioned the department’s plans for paving in the coming fiscal year. He noted that the county had received complaints about the conditions on some of Wicomico’s rural roads.

“We still have a lot of roads that need our attention …,” he said. “I think the citizens of the rural parts of this county deserve just as good a road as some other parts of the county.”

Roads Superintendent Lee Outen noted that the county was looking to pave up to 18 miles of roads and chipsealing an additional 55 and 62 miles in the coming year.

He told Holloway that many of his department’s resources have been set aside for rural areas of the county.

“We’ve been trying to target at least half a million dollars a year to improving rural roads, tar-and-chip roads,” he replied.

Councilman Josh Hastings noted that the Maryland General Assembly had recently passed a bill increasing the share of highway user revenues the county received.

“That was a pretty big win for most counties,” he said. “Does this budget reflect those potential increased revenues?”

Finance Director Pam Oland said those efforts had resulted in a $3.8 million revenue increase for the county, which was reflected in the fiscal year 2023 budget. Outen, however, said that was just a fraction of the revenue the county received before highway user revenues were cut in the late 2000s.

“Our budget was around $10 million at that time,” he added.

Councilman John Cannon also questioned why fuel costs for the solid waste division were budgeted to be 24% less in fiscal year 2023.

“When we started in solid waste and we were looking at the budget, we hadn’t realized the impacts of the fuel costs yet,” said Public Works Deputy Director Mark Whitelock. “They are really starting to spike up. I feel confident in the solid waste budget that for the most part we can move some money around and absorb some of those costs.”

Oland agreed.

“The estimate right now for what fuel is going to be for that department is about $475,000 to $500,000,” she said. “So even though the budget for fiscal year 2022 is over $600,000, we don’t expect to spend over $600,000 in fuel for solid waste.”

Cannon also questioned why the department included a $35,000 line item for a litter crew. Officials noted inmates have not been used for litter cleanup since the start of the COVID pandemic.

“We lost them, and were hoping to get them back,” Whitelock replied. “We didn’t want to lose that line item in case we can get them back.”

Last week’s work session comes weeks after Acting County Executive John Psota presented the Wicomico County Council with his proposed operating budgeting for fiscal year 2023.

The spending plan, totaling $173,908,637, represents an 7.6% increase over the current year’s budget.

“The budget is balanced as required by the charter,” he said in April. “The focus of the budget is to address the county’s core service needs: public safety, health, education and infrastructure.”

The council held a public hearing this week on the proposed budget, with plans to review the budget with various department heads in the coming weeks.

Once adopted, the fiscal year 2023 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.