Worcester Officials Begin Review Of Proposed $241M Budget

Worcester Officials Begin Review Of Proposed $241M Budget

SNOW HILL– Worcester County faces a shortfall of more than $11 million as the annual budget process begins.

In a work session this week, county staff presented the Worcester County Commissioners with a proposed fiscal year 2024 budget featuring revenues of slightly more than $230 million and proposed expenditures of more than $241 million.

“This leaves a shortfall of $11,586,353 which must be reconciled, either with reductions in expenditures, additional revenues or a combination of the two, a report from county administration reads. “Since the state budget is not finalized, the county could be further burdened by state cuts, continued unfunded mandates and/or the transfer of state responsibilities.”

Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young told the commissioners the proposed budget included an increase in revenues over the current year. He said net property tax revenues were expected to increase by about $6 million, primarily as a result of increased assessments. Income tax revenue is expected to remain flat at $38 million.

“Other local taxes, transfer and recordation taxes, are looking to be down nearly $4 million,” Young said. “Interest on investments is increasing nearly $5 million due to the current rates of return. While these are not all the sources of our revenue, they’re some of the biggest movers.”

As far as expenditures, requests from county department heads total $241,756,064 which is an increase of $14,669,286 or 6.5% more than the current year. The largest projected increases come in public safety and the Worcester County Board of Education. The school system is seeking $106 million from the county, an increase of $4.8 million over the current year’s appropriation. The majority of that increase is related to salaries, as the school system plans to provide a step increase and a 4% cost-of-living adjustment to teachers and a 4.5% cost-of-living adjustment for support staff. Bus contractor rates are also set to increase.

As far as public safety, the proposed budget includes $2.6 million for fire companies—based on the current funding of $250,000 to each fire company plus an additional $10,905 requested supplement to all fire companies. The continuation of supplement to rural fire companies for $20,000 is also included. The proposed budget includes $7.3 million for ambulance grants.

The Worcester County Sheriff’s Office’s proposed budget is $1.2 million higher than the current year’s spending plan. Much of that is related to salaries, Sheriff Matt Crisafulli told the commissioners.

“We have quite an ask for our staff as you know,” he said.

Crisafulli said like all law enforcement agencies, his office was struggling to recruit and retain qualified officers, particularly with the impact of recent state mandates.

“We cannot put a cost on the institutional knowledge that is garnered throughout a deputy’s career,” he said.

As a result he said he was seeking some step increases for his staff. He also wants to reclassify the department’s office assistant positions, as they do more than their current job descriptions imply.

“Support staff is critical for maintaining a professional law enforcement agency,” he said.

Crisafulli said his office was also seeking increased animal control funding, as those cases had increased, and capital funding for vehicles. He said the agency needed to replace eight older vehicles and wanted to purchase an armored rescue vehicle for $324,000.

“It’s essentially body armor on wheels,” Crisafulli said, adding that the vehicle could be used in a hostage situation or during severe weather events.

The proposed budget includes a $448,461 increase for the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office, though the increase is covered by a grant.  State’s Attorney Kris Heiser said her staff had nearly doubled in size last year as a result of the state’s body camera mandate, which made it harder to find opportunities for cost savings this year. Her office’s proposed budget shows a decrease of $84,015 in supplies and materials.

“In good faith I’ve cut everything I can cut,” she said.

The budget for Worcester County Circuit Court is another area where expenditures are expected to increase in the coming year. Officials there want to spend slightly more than $100,000 to install audio visual trial presentation equipment in two additional courtrooms. There are also plans to upgrade some security measures.

Administrative Judge Brian Shockley said there was currently just one courtroom with AV capabilities.

“As a society we’re becoming more and more visual…,” he said, adding that attorneys needed to be able to show video in an effective way to prove and defend cases. “In speaking with the attorneys and prosecutors, it is something that’s missed.”

While no changes were made to the proposed budget Tuesday, the commissioners are scheduled to hold another budget work session on April 11. The commissioners did vote 5-0 on Tuesday to advertise to maintain the current tax rate of $0.845 per $100 of assessment. A public hearing on the tax rate will be held Tuesday, May 2, at 7 p.m. at the government center.

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.