Culver gives ‘State of the County’ review

As the 2019 year begins in earnest, Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver has issued his annual report — his “State of the County” review.

The executive’s account of county conditions reviews accomplishments and lays out the picture of progress hoped for in the coming year. — Editor.

County Executive Bob Culver.

It is always nice to be given the opportunity to communicate and highlight our accomplishments that have been enjoyed during my term in office. As such, I am pleased to share the exciting ideas that will become reality in the coming years.

Our county continues to maintain its strong fiscal standing, sound governance and the always improved quality of life for its citizens.

I am excited that I was re elected so that I can continue on with my vision for the next four years. We have a lot to look forward to.

Strong finances

Fiscal year 2018 is our eighth consecutive year of positive revenue variances.

Projected income tax revenue exceeds budget by $1.1 million and is the result of continued strong employment

Projected property taxes exceed budget by $1.05 million without a tax rate increase. This is also our 10th consecutive year of positive expense variances.

Fiscal Year 2018 expenses are projected to be $5.4 million below the approved budget. As a result, our fund balance remains extremely strong compared to other Maryland counties; the unassigned fund balance is projected at 27 percent of recurring revenue.

These results are a continuation of the county’s conservative budgeting practices and very sound financial performance.

This is further evidenced by the fact that, according to the Maryland State Department of Legislative Services, our cost of government per capita is the third-lowest in Maryland.

We also have the fifth-lowest annual debt burden per capita in the state.

Beginning with fiscal year 2020 and continuing until 2024, we will retire outstanding debt very rapidly providing us with significant additional financial flexibility going forward.

In addition, our pension and other post employment liabilities are well funded; 88 percent and 86 percent, respectively. We have updated our budget forecast model utilizing very conservative assumptions and it demonstrates that we have the ability to weather increasing costs and a possible economic downturn cycle without facing structural deficits.

Our local economy remains strong and vibrant and we are proceeding with several initiatives that will serve to further strengthen it.

In summary, the county continues to post strong financial performances, is actively pursuing continued growth, and is well positioned to weather a normal recessionary cycle.

County employees

County Departments Salary Changes: In July, eligible employees received a 2 percent salary increase, which closely matched the December 2017 CPI-U year-over-year increase of 2.1 percent.

In addition to salary increases, the county re-evaluated the Singer Study compensation program, which was a study to determine fair market salary. The study resulted in some employees receiving up to an 8 percent salary increase as recommended to bring their salaries closer to market.

Pay scales were adjusted, based on the adoption of the most recent Singer Study update.

Hospitalization: The county’s initial health insurance renewal estimate for Sept. 1 was an increase in the range of 17 percent to 20 percent. Rather than increasing the insurance premium nearly $2.1 million in Fiscal 2019 as originally proposed by the county’s insurance carrier, we minimized the health insurance premium increase to $579,438 by moving employees to Exclusive Provider Option (EPO) coverage.

The change still gave people the option to stay in the Preferred Provider Option (PPO) plan; however, since the network is so large, and the benefits are virtually identical, we required those who stayed in the PPO to pay the cost difference between the plans, which again placed Wicomico County as a leader in securing ways to save money.

Other municipalities and counties have followed.

Law Department

We are continuing to be pleased with the savings that have been achieved by changing the Law Department from in house to a contractual basis.

Salaries and benefits were the most expensive in-house items and the transition to a contractual basis seems to have been very successful.

Tax sales returns

Since changing from annually to every two years for tax sales for non-payment for property taxes, we have been able to help the citizens during difficult times and allow them to pay on a payment schedule to make the burden easier. The results are we had less properties for sale with a greater number being redeemed and less citizens losing their homes.

Economic development

Our economy this past year remained strong though unemployment was slightly elevated over 2017, a year in which Wicomico achieved record employment.

The commonality of employers regardless of industry was perhaps the challenge in finding talent to fill open positions. On the other hand, job seekers often found a similar challenge in finding jobs meaningful to them. Working with numerous partners, filling the skills gap and connecting people and businesses to training and educational resources to further job prospects remain a priority.

Wicomico was proud to continue our strong partnership with Salisbury Wicomico Economic Development.

With SWED, we continued our longstanding practice of calling on our resident industry to better understand needs and how we might assist, completed Maryland Commerce reporting requirements associated with a $500,000 conditional loan to retrofit the Piedmont Airlines hangar complex at the Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport and positioned the airport for further economic growth by targeting key growth opportunities and including a planned runway extension from the current 6,400 feet to a new length of 8,000 feet.

Regional Airport

The airport continues to move up in class. We are rapidly approaching First Class.

The inside of the airport terminal has a new look with murals from our local community, to beach chairs with local scenery, not to mention the new passenger lounge, Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli is our food and hopefully soon our adult beverage provider for our passenger lounge which has amazing food and items for gifts as you hurry out on your flights.

The ground is being made ready for a new 38,000-square-foot corporate hangar proposed in 2019. We have new pavement on six taxi-lanes that surround the T Hangars and the aprons in front of the Corporate Hangars.

We are in the process of painting all of county owned T Hangars and Corporate Hangars.

These new improvements have the potential of $8.9 million in revenue, once operational.

We also have begun the construction process for our new UAS Drone Operational Center and Calibration Facility an 8,000-square-foot hangar.

This facility will house state-of-the-art drone detection system that will enable “Beyond Line of Sight” operations.

We have plans for new hangars adjacent to this hangar from commercial customers needing a test environment not only for drones, but for products that are associated with drones. The potential economic impact once we engage the industry is $6.7 million.

Also, we have a new Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting building being constructed at the entrance to the airport.

It will have a “coastal” design and be the start to a new look at the airport. This facility will house two ARFF trucks with proper rest areas for the firefighting crews and administration offices.

This addition will allow us to raise our ARFF Index and provide a higher level of safety for our traveling public.

The new Master Plan update is completed and submitted to FAA for their review for a runway extension to 8,000-foot and a new cargo ramp.

We are waiting for FAA approval to fund this project. This extension is expensive — about $35 million with land acquisitions and environmental assessments. But the extension provides for economic development and growth.

The projected economic impact for the cargo ramp with the runway extension is $22.7 million. And with a new maintenance facility on the horizon, that could provide an additional economic benefit of $11.4 million.

Education

The Fiscal Year 2019 annual budget passed with $500,000 above Maintenance Of Effort appropriated to the Board of Education.

In addition, nearly one half of the county’s new bond indebtedness was attributable to school construction and renovations as follows:

  • Delmar Elementary Limited Renovation-Multiple Systemic — $852,000.
  • Glen Avenue Elementary: Systemic Renovation-Roofs — 331,000.
  • Pinehurst Elementary: Systemic Renovation-Roofs — 154,000.
  • Fruitland Primary: Limited Renovation-Studies/Planning — $75,000.
  • Pinehurst Elementary: Retrofit-Multiple Systemic — $1.04 million.
  • Mardela High/Middle: Site-Fields and Grounds — $1.22 million.
  • Stadium/Field House: Site — $490,000.
  • Wicomico High School: Retrofit-Auditorium — $500,000.
  • Parkside High School: Retrofit-Auditorium — $450,000.

Total Board of Education Projects: $5.115 million.

Public Safety

The Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office Road Patrol had a busy year.

Our deputies and dispatchers handled more than 40,000 calls for service. We made approximately 8,000 traffic stops for over 11,000 traffic violations.

We investigated close to 4,200 criminal offenses and more than 800 motor vehicle collisions.

In 2018, the Judicial Protection Division processed almost 90,000 individuals through the screening area to attend over 7,000 court hearings.

Sheriff’s Office personnel also controlled almost 1,500 prisoners while conducting close to 400 prisoner transports to other counties and states. 2018 saw the beginning of a new era for the Sheriff’s Office as the process to build a new headquarters is well under way.

Recreation and Parks

The year 2018 was a landmark year for the Department of Recreation, Parks Tourism as major capital projects advanced and over 1,000 events were held to improve the quality of life of Wicomico County citizens.

The Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex expansion officially opened in April with a first pitch thrown by me followed by high school baseball and softball games. The $3.2 million expansion, which began in 2017, included the installation of four synthetic turf baseball/softball diamonds, addition of field lights on two fields, new dugouts, press boxes and many other park ammenities, solidifying the Athletic Complex as the premier baseball/softball facility in the region.

By doing much of the labor in house, the Parks division saved the County over $100,000 in costs allowing project dollars to be stretched further.

The first phase of modernization of the Youth & Civic Center was completed in 2018. In addition to aesthetic improvements already completed, the building made technological upgrades in 2018 that increase safety and convenience for patrons.

Some of these items include the addition of security metal detection and magnometers, handheld ticket scanners, increased signage for wayfinding, Wi-Fi upgrades, among other items.

Arthur W. Perdue Stadium renovations progressed in 2018 with continued improvements to the facility structure including a total roof replacement, seating bowl repairs, steel and masonry repairs, and other structural improvements.

In 2019, the county is expected to complete the list of 20-year lease renovation projects including the 360-degree wrap-around deck and other fan amenity projects.

Wicomico County was awarded an $820,000 Land & Water Conservation Fund federal grant through the National Park Service to develop the property known as Pirate’s Wharf.

The county will undertake a master planning effort that should be completed in 2019 which will outline the plan for this future park site.

The Parks Division remained active in park improvement projects in 2018 (new play modules, court resurfacing, painting projects, etc.) including projects at San Domingo, Billy Gene Jackson Park, Cope Bennett, Kilbirnie and Cedarhurst.

Bulkhead replacement continued at Cedar Hill Marina and the Westside Community Center was repainted, among other landscaping improvements across the county.

While facility improvement continued to be a high priority, the department also had a significant impact with tourism and community events in 2018.

Wicomico County Tourism hosted 50 events in calendar year 2018, six of which were new.

These events attracted 120,000 attendees requiring 36,000 hotel room nights and generated an estimated economic impact of $57 million.

The Department successfully partnered with the Farm Home Show to produce the annual Wicomico County Fair at Winterplace Park and the Wicomico Equestrian Center.

This free event was attended by more than 15,000 people and has become a must-attend community event in Wicomico County.

The annual Good Beer and Autumn Wine festivals had a combined attendance of nearly 6,200 people in 2018. The beer festival changed format in 2018 replacing Sunday activities with a Friday night session.

The Civic Center had a busy year hosting nearly 1,000 different events ranging from large concerts and trade shows to community events including graduations and proms.

Emergency Services

Replacement Public Safety Radio System: The current public safety radio system is 16 years old and is subject to decreased hardware and software support by the manufacturer.

Failures and downtime will increase as the system continues to age. A new system will enable county public safety services agencies to maintain voice communications capabilities while ensuring that they are fully inter-operable with other agencies.

A county Replacement Radio System committee selected Motorola to proceed with the build out of the replacement radio system.

Community Emergency Response Training Graduation: In April, this program that educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact our area, recognized its first graduation class.

This prepares them to protect and help themselves and assist others during emergencies. The 18-member class consists of modules combining classroom learning and practical activities.

Upon completion, they are trained and certified in CPR/AED First Aid, fire extinguisher use and receive a CERT pin and certificate.

Families Partnership

The Wicomico County Local Management Board, through the Wicomico Partnership for Families and Children, funded eight programs in 2018 including: Family Education, Big Hope Network (Big Brothers and Big Sisters of the Eastern Shore), two Navigation programs for families including New Transitions and the city of Salisbury, Tri-Community Mediation’s re-entry program, Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore’s Opportunity Youth Epoch after-school program, and Teen Court all with funds from the Governor’s Office of Children.

The Maryland State Department of Education also partnered with the WPFC to fund Healthy Farnilies, whose home visitors completed 591 home visits with families participating in the program in 2018.

WPFC is also the home of the Local Care Team, an interagency council designed to provide resources and support to families trying to access services for a child with intensive emotional and behavioral needs.

The council meets monthly with parents to identify strengths in the family and provide direction and resources for families and children to overcome barriers in relation to obtaining service.

The LMB hosted Tri-County “Bridges Out Out of Poverty” workshop with Worcester and Somerset in May, which was attended by 40 professionals who work with children and families experiencing poverty, to develop strategies to help alleviate poverty and improve outcomes in the county.

EPOCH, Out of School Time Program, served a total of 50 students with 34 impacted by incarceration.

Their programming included 146.8 hours of after school structured, supervised activities from September to June. Performance Measure results indicate seven of 10 students had an increase or maintained school grades.

The Teen Court Program success rate for diverting teen offenders from the Department of Juvenile Services is 89 percent. Some 40 youth were also diverted from formal involvement at least six months following the date of their Teen Court hearing.

In FY18 45 youth participants and 50 student volunteers participated in Teen Court.

Respondents are choosing to stay as youth volunteers as they finish their sanctions as they see the impact the experience has on their everyday lives.

Roads improvements

Our road construction crews have been busy once again trying to ensure that our infrastructure is the best it can be.

This year, Public Works/Roads Division resurfaced 116.5 miles of roads in Wicomico County.

Fifteen roads were upgraded from tar and chip to hot mix asphalt including portions of Fire Tower Road, Norris Twilley Road  and Athol Road.

Roads crews also cleaned out more than 8 miles of roadside drainage swales, installed 68 cross road pipes, constructed 27 storm drain inlets, poured/formed 4,885 feet of curb gutter, and reconstructed 22.5 miles of shoulders.

In March, Public Works hosted a series of drainage related meetings throughout the County to get input on places where citizens are experiencing flooding, probable causes of the flooding, and what can be done to reduce the impact from large rain events.

Residents expressed that ditch maintenance needed to be given a higher priority.

Public Works has responded with increased public ditch cleaning efforts. In addition, Public Works has been partnering with the Maryland State Highway Administration, Maryland Department of Agriculture, and Urban Service Commission to provide mechanisms to address drainage issues outside of County owned right-of-way.

In 2018, the county again experienced multiple large rainfall events resulting in dozens of partial road washouts and damage to drainage pipes under the road.

In most cases Public Works was able to reopen the affected roads within a day of the washouts.

Work also began on updating Morris Mill Pond Dam. The dam is being upgraded with new spillway pipes under the road, new outfall control structure which will allow the pond level to be lowered prior to a storm, and downstream slope armoring to prevent washouts.

Engineering the future

The Engineering Department reviewed and issued 63 stormwater management plan permits/approvals for residential, agricultural, and commercial projects.

County engineers continued to oversee the construction of development related stormwater improvement projects, the county’s Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP), and the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit.

Multiple drainage studies were undertaken including the areas of Pratt Road, Coty Cox Branch, and Kaywood Drive.

A Water Sewer Master Plan for the county is under development which will suggest strategies for providing services to failing septic systems and wells in unincorporated parts of the county.

Lastly, design work is in the final stage for the Airport Water Main Extension Project.

Recycling commitment

This year the Newland Park Landfill accepted 127,798 tons of refuse and removed 2,135 tons from the waste stream via the county recycling program. In addition, Public Works

Solid Waste Division rehabilitated the Delmar Convenience Center with new ramps, retaining walls, concrete pads, attendant house, lighting, and security cameras.

The Civic Center Recycling Station was also updated to include site lighting, video monitoring, fencing, pad rehabilitation, signage, and newly refurbished metal bins

The Fruitland Convenience Center on Walnut Tree Road was reconfigured to provide 24/7 access to recycling bins. The reconfiguration gives citizens in the southern portion of the county an alternate location to recycle in place of the previously closed Fruitland Town Hall site.

Planning & Zoning

Increased Construction Values: Over the first 11 months of this calendar year, 528 building permits with an estimated value of $47 million were issued for building activities located in the unincorporated portion of Wicomico County.

Permits issued for new stick-built single-family residential dwellings accounted for 71 permits with an estimated construction value of approximately $15.5 million.

The remaining 457 permits consisted of residential improvements, as well as constructing new non residential structures and improvements to existing buildings.

The total estimated construction value for the aforementioned building permit types was approximately $31.5 million.

Natural Resources Protection: This was the first complete year of county preservation efforts in the recently expanded Quantico Creek Rural Legacy Area.

This expansion was an initiative of mine to better protect the PaleoChannel, as well as sensitive lands along Rewastico Creek.

This voluntary program provides private landowners a financial alternative to selling lots for development.

Housing Investment: The department successfully applied to the state, Department of Housing and Community Development, for funding under the Community Development Block Grant program.

A grant of $650,000 was awarded to the county, working in cooperation with Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services.

These funds are used to assist county wide with housing rehabilitation, and to provide down payment assistance for homebuyers.

Flood Mitigation: Over the past year the county has been evaluating flood related issues throughout the county.

This included an examination of the unique tidal flooding concern within Whitehaven, in an effort to develop strategies for preserving this historic village.

In June, the Army Corps of Engineers performed a field survey to take ground elevations throughout the Whitehaven area.

Working in cooperation with the county and local property owners, this data gathering is being used to develop plans for possible future mitigation efforts.

Heroin/Opioid Update

Wicomico County continues to have success with the local heroin and opioid epidemic reducing the overdoses and fatalities by the use of a multi-pronged approach that involves several agencies.

We are making progress and have plans to increase our war on the problem that plagues our state and the nation. This problem didn’t happen overnight and won’t be solved rapidly either. But the county is proactively battling the problem with success.

New department leaders

  • Ruth Coulbourne — Appointed Department of Corrections Director.
  • Michelle Bradley — Appointed Director of the Wicomico Partnership for Families and Children.
  • Lori Carter — Appointed Director of Planning & Zoning.
  • Keith Hall —  Named Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning.
  • John R. Monar — Appointed Director of the Department of Information Technology.
  • Lonnie Uptegrow Jr. — Deputy Director of Information Technology.

Looking forward

As 2018 comes to a close, I am proud of our accomplishments and excited about our future.

We have much to do but I have great confidence with the employees and the strong financial situation of the county we will continue to succeed.

The fiscal health is strong and our future is bright.

I personally thank each and every one of you for your efforts and contributions which make Wicomico County such a wonderful place to live and work.

 

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