County Council finally approves Business Development budget

After some high-profile back and forth, the County Council has approved County Executive Bob Culver’s spending plans to create what will now be called the Office of Business Development.

At the council’s meeting last week, the vote was unanimous to approve a $684,844 department budget for the fiscal year that began in July and ends in June.

The line item expenses show $113,000 planned for salaries, $59,247 for benefits and $339,820 for operating expenses.

Another $25,000 would be spent as part of the county’s payment to the public-private Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development Inc.; that annual commitment is $144,750.

According to the expense lines Culver gave the council, the office will spend $2,000 on rent for a separate office space on North Division Street, $15,000 for television ads throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, and $600 a month for two billboards that will promote the county.

The largest expense ─ $259,880 ─ will be spent on programs chosen by the administration and the yet-to-be-hired Director of Business Development and Grants.

Culver’s vision for the office is that it be staffed by a director and a deputy. The position would seek to attract businesses to the county, as well as perform state and federal grant-writing duties.

When adopting the fiscal budget in June, the County Council approved a pool of money ─ more than $600,000 ─ for economic development initiatives that would be sought by Culver and his staff. That figure included the SWED contribution.

Last month, Council President John Cannon told Culver in a public session that the office expenses needed to be itemized, triggering a tense discussion over the executive’s role and the council’s possible interference.

After reviewing the itemized list last week, with Culver seated at the table, the council unanimously signed off on the numbers with supportive input.

At the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon on Thursday, Culver said he would be hiring a director to lead the office in December — after the legislative timetable had run its course.

He said that William Badger, Worcester County’s former Economic Development Director, who was considered to be a candidate for the position, had elected instead to work as a consultant and wouldn’t be a candidate.

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