Wicomico Council Reviews Sheriff’s Office, Airport Budgets

SALISBURY – As the adoption date inches closes, county leaders met with department heads last week to discuss proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year.

In a work session last Friday, representatives from the airport, sheriff’s office and corrections department came before the Wicomico County Council to discuss their proposed budgets for fiscal year 2023.

Finance Director Pam Oland noted the airport budget, totaling more than $4 million, included additional funding for other post-employment benefits (OPEB) and pensions, as well as the purchase of an airport building currently leased by FedEx.

“The lease for the FedEx building is coming to an end …,” she explained, noting that the purchase was part of the lease agreement. “We become the leaseholder instead of the developer who developed the FedEx building. We don’t have any indications that FedEx wants to leave, it’s just a matter of us becoming the leaseholder and collecting the rent rather than the developer being the leaseholder and collecting the rent.”

Airport Manager Tony Rudy added that the airport would purchase the building at 25% of its assessed value. Councilman Joe Holloway, however, urged officials to complete a detailed inspection of the property.

“We don’t want to get into the paddleboat situation that Snow Hill was in,” he said, “where they bought something and after they bought it they found out they were going to have to spend almost a million dollars.”

Councilman John Cannon noted the airport’s budget also included $15,000 for event planning. Rudy said that money would be used to host its annual Wings and Wheels event, or some new iteration of it.

“Whether it’s going to be Wings and Wheels or another event, we want to try and get the public back to the airport,” he explained. “So we’re kicking around some ideas now, but we will probably need assistance with that.”

Council members last week also met with the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office to discuss the agency’s $15.5 million budget. While the proposed spending plan has increased by more than $1 million, Major Tod Richardson said most of it was the result of unfunded state mandates.

“There are several state-mandated costs that are built into the budget this year that we have no control over,” he said.

In additional to psychological evaluations, which are expected to cost the department $10,000, Richardson said the budget also included additional funds for body-worn cameras.

“We had to expand our program, just like everyone else has,” he said. “Before, we had certain divisions that had them. Now everyone will be required to wear a camera from now on. So that cost is going to go up.”

Oland told council members last week the administration would come before the council with a federal grant to cover some of the costs associated with the body-worn camera program. Sheriff Mike Lewis, however, said the program was worth it.

“I would much rather operate with a body-worn camera and an in-car camera then not having any video coverage at all,” he said, “because 99.9% of the time footage from the body-worn camera and in-car camera will refute the frivolous allegations being made against our county, against our deputies, by the public, without a doubt.”

Officials last week also questioned some of the expenses associated with the new public safety building.

“Are we anticipating any additional costs for utilities and maintenance?” Cannon asked.

Richardson said they were.

“It’s going to be a higher load as we’re doubling in size,” he said.

Oland agreed.

“We expect it to go up, we do not expect it to double. It should be more efficient …,” she said. “There will also be a need to furnish the new building.”

When asked what the county planned to do with the old sheriff’s office once the new public safety building was constructed, Oland said those plans were still being evaluated.

“One of the things that will have to stay is it is the current backup location for dispatch …,” she replied. “Then we are evaluating the remaining space we will have there and how the county will best utilize that.”

Council members last week also met with the department of corrections to review its $19.6 million proposed budget. Holloway questioned why the department’s food budget had gone up.

“I noticed the home detention budget increased greatly … but also the food cost for inmates increased,” he said. “Wouldn’t that go down?”

Warden Ruth Colbourne noted that food costs had increased as a result of inflation and shipping. She added that the jail’s population had also increased.

“We pay per meal, and our population is at pre-pandemic levels currently,” she explained. “Our inside population was at 293 the last I looked. That is what we were at prior to COVID.”

When asked about the department’s hiring efforts, Colbourne said the staffing situation had improved.

“We’re slowly gaining some ground,” she replied. “Hopefully we can continue.”

As it currently stands, the proposed operating budget totals $173,908,637, a 7.6% increase over the current year’s spending plan. Once approved, the fiscal year 2023 budget will take 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.