Worcester Officials Approve Budget In 5-2 Vote

Worcester Officials Approve Budget In 5-2 Vote
File photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – Worcester County officials approved a nearly $227 million budget this week.

On Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners voted 5-2 to approve a $226,916,778 budget for the 2023 fiscal year. The budget, which is 5% more than the fiscal year 2022 budget, maintains the current property tax rate of $0.845 and the local income tax rate of 2.25%.

“Worcester County residents will continue to benefit from the lowest income tax rate and the second lowest real property tax rate as compared to all other counties in Maryland,” a statement from Worcester County reads. “This fiscally conservative budget maintains funding for valuable public services residents can count on, such as public safety, education and infrastructure.”

The majority of the county’s projected revenues, roughly $152 million, will come from property taxes.  About 15% of revenues will come from income taxes while about 8% comes from local taxes and recordation and transfer taxes.

As far as county spending, about 18% of the coming year’s expenditures are tied to public safety. Roughly $10.3 million is budgeted for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office. Another $9.8 million is budgeted for the county jail and $2.7 million is budgeted for the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office. Emergency Services has a budget of $3.3 million in the coming year and $9.6 million will fund volunteer fire and ambulance companies.

The budget includes an increase in pay for county employees, as it features 4% cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA), a step increase and longevity pay for employees that are eligible.

The bulk of the county’s spending, however, is associated with education, as 50% of the budget goes to the school system and Wor-Wic. The total fiscal year 2023 maintenance of effort funding per Worcester County Public Schools student, based on an estimated student population of 6,402, equates to about $15,169 per student.

The commissioners approved the Worcester County Public Schools budget of $100,983,605—an increase of $3,981,384 over the current year—  separately from the overall budget with a 6-1 vote. The salary package for the school system reflects a payroll increase of $4,025,396, which includes a step, longevity step for those eligible, a 4% COLA for Teachers and 4.5% COLA for support staff employees. The bus contracts account increase over FY22 is $247,876 and reflects an increase in the hourly rate from $22.58 to $25.00, increasing mileage from $1.60 to $1.62 and per vehicle allotment (PVA) from $20,115 to $20,920. In addition, the school system’s budget includes an increase in starting teacher pay from $47,795 to $49,707.

Commissioner Ted Elder, who was the lone vote of opposition to the school system budget, said he wasn’t satisfied with the way the budget treated bus contractors. Though drivers got some increases in pay, they told both the school board and the commissioners this spring those increases weren’t enough to combat rising costs.

“I think they could have done more for contractors to help them get through this tough time,” Elder said.

He added that while the amount the school system spent on administration had increased in recent years, the percentage of the budget devoted to bus contractors had decreased. He said that despite assertions to the contrary, Worcester’s bus drivers are not the highest paid in the area.

“In Wicomico they’re getting paid more per hour,” he said.

The overall county budget was approved after work sessions this spring where the commissioners made cuts to address what was initially an $11 million shortfall. They decreased expenses where they could and agreed to use $4 million in prior year surplus to balance the budget.

The budget was approved with a 5-2 vote, with Commissioner Chip Bertino and Commissioner Jim Bunting opposed. Bertino said he voted against the budget because it includes bond funding for a sports complex.

“I cannot support that,” Bertino said.

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.