Bob Culver offers 2019 ‘State of the County’ report

County Executive Bob Culver presented his annual State of the County report at an event held Dec. 16 at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center. Culver, a Republican who in December began the second year of his second term as the county administrative leader, stressed quality-of-life issues, financial stewardship and a hopeful future. — Editor.

The best part of my job is to be given the opportunity to highlight the accomplishments and successes with the State of the County Report every year. 2019 has seen many new and exciting programs focused on the citizens of the county.

County Executive Bob Culver.

Along with continuing to concentrate on the financial health of our government for most of my term as executive, in 2019 several citizen oriented programs were launched.

Warming Up Wicomico

On Jan. 9, we announced the new program, “Warming Up Wicomico.”

Local merchants allowed us to place drop boxes in their businesses that were made available for outerwear, socks, blankets and other warming items. There were more than 1,323 items donated and because of the generosity of so many citizens, several shelters, homeless camps and other citizens in need benefited.

Town Hall meetings

In July, we decided to bring our administrative team directly to our communities with the monthly Executive Town Hall Meetings.

These meetings allow our citizens the opportunity to be personally updated on what is happening in the County and allow them to share their thoughts and concerns. We have been very pleased with the attendance. These Town Hall meetings are being held all around the County and will continue in 2020.

Meals On Wheels

We learned in June that Meals On Wheels funding was being reduced at the state level and Maintaining Active Citizens was going to have a shortfall to finish the meals to the elderly as normal for the remainder of the year.

We made a request to the County Council at that point and we are pleased to report that almost six months later they voted to furnish our part of the funding that was needed so no one goes hungry.

Wicomico Goes Purple

We have been very concerned regarding the opioid epidemic locally. In cooperation with the Wicomico Health Department the “Wicomico Goes Purple” kickoff was held during National Recovery Month in September. In collaboration with the Wicomico County Opioid Intervention Team, Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, and in partnership with the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, we shared the message about the dangers of substance abuse and misuse and encouraged our community to take a stand against it.

Strong finances

Fiscal year 2019 is our ninth consecutive of positive revenue variances.

Projected income tax revenue exceeds the prior year by approximately $5.4 million and is the result of continued strong employment. Projected property taxes exceeded 2018 by $1.55 million without a tax increase.

This is our 11th consecutive year of positive expense variances. Fiscal Year 2019 expenses are projected to be approximately $1.55 million below the approved budget. As a result, our fund balance remains extremely strong compared to other Maryland counties.

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

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; 86.3 percent and 124.9 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.

Tax Sale

In 2016, the county exercised the option permitted by state law to hold tax sale every two years. This provided taxpayers more payment options rather than their properties sold at tax sale.

The 2019 tax sale consisted of 801 properties, 540 sold, yielding in the collection of $841,873.16 in back taxes.

Revenues

In the fiscal year 2019, the most substantial increases in revenues are approximately as follows:

Income tax revenues increased by nearly 11 percent in the fiscal year, to $56 million.

Property tax revenues were up 2.8 percent, to $57 million.

Expenses 

In the fiscal year 2019, the most substantial approximate increases in expenses are approximately as follows:

Capital Projects spending increased nearly 70 percent to $7.3 million. The county’s contribution to the school board increased $2.7 percent to just over $44 million.

Employee raises

Salaries for county employees in the fiscal year were increased 5.8 percent, to $16.7 million.

For the fourth consecutive year, eligible county employees received a 2 percent or greater salary increase.

Fraternal Order of Police members received their final step pay increase under the current five-year collective bargaining agreement. As outlined in the FOP agreement, this was the last year of the salary increases through the expiration of the contract in the fiscal year 2021.

Post-Employment Benefits

The implementation of the stipend approach for paying retirees health premiums and assumed annual increases in the subsidy in-line with an inflation assumption of 2.5 percent per year, rather than the market rate of 5-plus percent per year, resulting in the OPEB plan being more than fully funded in fiscal year 2019.

For year ending June 30, 2018, the net OPEB liability was $4.8 million, a funding ratio of 86 percent.

Under the new approach, for year end June 30, 2019, the net OPEB liability was ($7.1 million), a funding ratio of 125 percent. Future focuses will be on fully funding the county pension plan to offset several years of investment losses.

Economic Development

Our economy this past year remained strong and as of this writing, our unemployment rate stood at 4 percent (October, 2019), a 12-year low.

For this calendar year through October 2019, we recorded employment growth of 1.6 percent vs. the same time period in the previous year. Our employment growth rate is comparable to the employment growth of the nation (1.6 percent) and the state of Maryland (1.7 percent) for the same time-frame.

We are fortunate to have a diversified economic base with strength in agriculture and agribusiness, health care, higher education and manufacturing. These key industry sectors along with entrepreneurship and infrastructure investment continue to be much of our focus going forward.

Wicomico was pleased to further our strong partnership with Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development and along with our partners, we continued our long standing practice of calling on and reaching out to resident industry.

We worked with a number of companies in assisting in their growth, including Delaware Elevator, Al-Tech Associates, CAV Manufacturing, Toroid P&H, Arcon Welding, AhPharma, Evolution Craft Brewing, Perdue Farms, Trinity Sterile, Piedmont Airlines, Custom Cable Solutions, Sentinel Robotics Systems and many more.

SRS is the lead tenant in our soon to be constructed Drone Center of Excellence at the Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport and through the Maryland Department of Commerce, we successfully secured $100,000 toward the construction of the drone facility.

The projected economic impact the drone industry brings to our community is significant. The prospect of employment opportunities will increase the county’s tax base and personal income. 

Additional income will be realized, should a drone-manufacturing presence be established.

We announced that APEX RFC has chosen Wicomico County as the site for its U.S. manufacturing and distribution facility.

Projecting 100 new jobs over the next several years, APEX operates in the telecommunications sector and with the deployment of 5G technology, we anticipate further growth within that sector.

We strengthened our relationships and community outreach through leadership series events.

In addition, we further collaborated with regional partners including NASA-Wallops Island, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Delmarva Water Transport Authority, Salisbury University, Peninsula Regional Medical Center and more.

Wicomico Regional Airport

The Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport continues to improve safety and efficiency while bringing new industries to our facility. Cosmetic improvements recently completed include updates to the terminal building, painting numerous hangars and runway improvements.

Future infrastructure improvements will provide a pathway for growth.

The master plan update is complete for a runway extension to 7,800 feet, along with a new cargo ramp. FAA approval and an approved funding plan are anticipated by Jan. 15.

The extension will be expensive. However, it will provide a mechanism for economic growth and development. The projected revenue for this improvement is over $22 million.

A new general aviation maintenance facility is proposed with potential revenue exceeding $11 million.

Design and site plans are complete for the new Airport Firefighting and Rescue building. Funding is expected in July 2020 for this needed infrastructure. This facility will enhance safety and support the increase of our expanding operations. Additionally, site work is underway for a new 38,000-square-foot corporate hangar in 2020.

Harris Corp., the FAA sole provider for surveillance equipment and services, conducted a feasibility study concerning the air traffic capabilities of our national airspace. The purpose of the study was to employ new technology in lieu of radar. Harris has outlined requirements to enhance air traffic operational safety during inclement weather and reduced visibilities.

Education funding

The fiscal annual budget passed with an additional $800,000 for the Maintenance of Effort appropriated to the Board of Education. This funding was to benefit Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin’s “Imagine 2022” strategic plan. 

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission, was established by the legislature in 2016. Its findings have developed an ambitious overhaul of the Maryland educational system.

Unfortunately in doing so, they did not determine how this plan would be funded.

These concepts will be mandates of the state constitution, not the county’s. What the exact fiscal impacts are currently unknown.

Sheriff’s Office

As of early December, Wicomico County Sheriff’s Deputies in 2019 had responded to 29,581 calls for service — that number is projected to be 32,261 at the end of calendar year 2019, which represents a 19 percent increase over the total calls for service for 2018 (26,969).

To date, as we continue to work hard in addressing the opioid epidemic affecting the quality of life for those living in Wicomico County, Sheriff’s Deputies have also made 515 Drug Arrests in 2019, with a projection to close the year at 556 drug related arrests, which will mark a 53 percent increase over the amount of drug arrests in 2018 (362).

In 2019, the number of overdoses handled by the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office to date is 20 with an end of the year projection of 22. This will be slightly down from the 25 handled in 2018. Our strategy is working.

The command staff of the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office continues to work diligently and closely with architects and engineers as we move closer to the construction of a multi-million-dollar Public Safety Complex, scheduled to begin in fall 2020.

Emergency Services

Preparing for Next Generation 911 Implementation continued in 2019. NG 911 is an internet protocol-based system that allows digital information — text messages, photos, videos, voice and data — to flow seamlessly from the public, through the 911 network/centers, and on to emergency responders.

Planning considerations include an implementation timeline for the NG 911 functions cited, costs, staffing and equipment needs associated with the NG 911 functions. The first NG 911 function planned to be implemented in the county was text messaging, which occurred in July 2019.

Steps to prepare for and implement the other NG 911 functions, 2020 and beyond, are under way. DES is currently working with the other Eastern Shore counties in an effort to select an NG 911 solution provider.

In May, I announced the public launch of the Pulse Point application in Wicomico County.

Pulse Point is a mobile application that alerts citizens to someone having a cardiac emergency in their area.

The app is activated by computer interfaces in the Wicomico County Department of Emergency Services 911 Center. The app will only alert in public places and not residential homes for security and privacy reasons.

The purpose of the app is to increase survival rates of cardiac arrest victims by reducing the collapse to CPR time and defibrillation times as the app also provides locations of public automatic external defibrillator units.

Recreation, Parks, Tourism

In 2019, the Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism had another successful year, as major

capital projects continued to advance and more than 1,000 events were held to improve the quality of life of Wicomico County residents.

The county continued to improve the fan experience at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium with the addition of a 360-degree deck, which sets the facility apart from other Single A locations in the region.

The county is expected to complete the list of 20-year lease renovation projects in 2020. These include press box renovations and cosmetic improvements to the lobby.

The Pirate’s Wharf park development project took major steps forward in 2019, including the development of a park master plan and completion of an environmental assessment. The estimated $1.8 million project was made possible by federal, state and local funding, and it remains on target to be developed by 2021.

The county launched its Project 7 ½ initiative for the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex in 2019. The concept is to build a ball field that will serve as a home field for Challenger Little League and include other recreational opportunities for those with disabilities. The field is scheduled to be built by spring 2020, and fundraising efforts are ongoing so that the project can include additional amenities such as an inclusive playground and sensory trail.

The Wicomico Youth & Civic Center addressed several building maintenance issues in FY19. Improvements included the installation of a new chiller and water tower, roof repairs, video security camera upgrades and the addition of production equipment to allow for smaller shows to take place in the Midway Room.

Over the coming year, the Civic Center is expected to undergo major improvements to the exterior of the building that will enhance security and improve its overall appearance.

The Parks Department continued another busy year of facility rehabilitation, including:

  • Playground equipment replacements in five different parks: East Wicomico Little League, Eastside Youth Sports Complex, Emerson Holloway Park, Indian Village Park and Billy Gene Jackson Sr. Park.
  • Court rehabilitation at WinterPlace Park, Cope Bennett Park and Cedarhurst Park. Cope Bennett and WinterPlace now include painted lines for the sport of pickleball, which is an emerging sport across the nation.
  • Construction of an additional softball field at the Mason-Dixon Sports Complex in Delmar. The additional field allowed Delmar to host games during the 2019 USSSA Eastern National Championships and will make the facility more flexible for local/tournament play in the future.
  • The county acquired approximately two acres of land in Delmar adjacent to the Mason-Dixon Sports Complex to help address parking deficiencies for recreation programs and tournament events.
  • Cedar Hill Marina continued renovations in 2019, as bulkhead and finger piers for slips 121-132 were replaced. Additional work at Cedar Hill is slated for 2020.
  • Phase I of the Schumaker Park parking lot project was completed in spring 2019. Phase II of the project, which includes additional sidewalk connectivity to improve public access, is expected to be finished in 2020.
  • Additional parking was created at Cove Road Beach to help reduce road congestion and to create a safer environment for park visitors.

While facility improvement continues to be a high priority, the department also had a significant impact with tourism and community events in 2019.

In calendar year 2019, the tourism division supported 52 events. These events attracted 207,000-plus attendees, required 48,000-plus hotel room nights and generated an economic impact of $72.9 million. Attendees traveled from as far as California, Canada and Puerto Rico for tourism-related events. 

Record crowds enjoyed the Good Beer Festival and Autumn Wine Festival, which returned to Pemberton Park on the second and third weekends of October, respectively.

Wicomico County partnered with its Eastern Shore neighbors to collectively promote the region to tour operators, group tours and sports marketing organizers.

In its 13th year, the United States Specialty Sports Association Eastern National Championships brought 343 teams to the Shore, generating an estimated economic impact of over $16.7 million. More than 8,600 confirmed hotel room nights were booked in Wicomico and Worcester Counties and the Town of Ocean City through the tournament’s housing provider.

The department collaborated with several community organizations and nonprofits to host the second annual Fresh Start: A Wicomico County Back to School Event. This initiative provided over 2,500 backpacks and school supplies to Wicomico County students. The event was held at the Civic Center and also featured free food and haircuts for students.

The department launched the Pemberton 24: Festival of 5Ks, a running event held at Pemberton Park. This unique event involved a series of 24 consecutive 5K races over a 24-hour period and attracted more than 165 runners for the inaugural event.

The Wicomico Youth & 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. Highlights in FY19 included the For King and Country concert, the Kelsea Ballerini concert, Paw Patrol Live and Finding Neverland.

The Civic Center once again hosted the Mission of Mercy dental clinic in March. This event provided free dental services for hundreds of area residents.

Public Works

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

This year, the Roads Division resurfaced 89.5 miles of roads in Wicomico County. Nine roads were upgraded from tar and chip to hot mix asphalt including portions of Woodyard Road, Spearin Road, Dagsboro Road, Parsonsburg Road and Riggin Road.

County Roads crews also poured/formed 350 feet of curb and gutter, reconstructed two miles of shoulders, and trimmed over 40 miles of roadside trees.

In March 2018 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.

In those meetings the residents expressed that ditch maintenance needed to be given a higher priority. Public Works continued working through the list of projects by cleaning out over 7 miles of drainage swales, replacing 51 cross road pipes, and reconstructing 17 storm drain inlets.

Work continued on 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. Although delayed through last winter due to a redesign to address water seeping through the dam, the projected restarted in late spring and work has been steadily progressing. Now, March 30 is the expected completion date.

Solid Waste

In 2019, the Newland Park Landfill accepted 139,978 tons of refuse and has approximately twenty years of life remaining. In addition, the Solid Waste Division rehabilitated the Quantico Convenience Center with new ramps, retaining walls, concrete pads, attendant house, lighting, and security cameras.

Construction on Cell 9 at the Newland Park Landfill was completed in late spring and has been receiving solid waste for several months. The new cell is expected to last four to five years.

Newland Park is permitted to construct three more cells before expanding the existing footprint. In addition, Phase 1 of the landfill expansion permit was completed and accepted by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Phase 2 of the expansion permit will begin this year with groundwater monitoring wells being installed on the proposed expansion property.

The wells will be monitored over the next year to establish baseline water quality of the underlying aquifer. This expansion will bring the estimated remaining life of the landfill to fifty years.

Planning & Zoning

In the past year, the Permits and Inspections Division has continued efforts designed to improve the goal streamlining the permit review process for citizens and contractors of Wicomico County. The transition of bringing the County Plumbing Inspector into the Permits & Inspection Division from the county Health Department has made the process for obtaining permits more efficient and less time consuming.

The Permits & Inspections Division is anticipating the arrival of wireless tablets and printers to be installed in the vehicles of field inspectors. This technology enhancement will improve efficiency and has the benefit of “real-time” inspection approvals, limit time required for the citizens and contractors to schedule an inspection, and allow administrative staff to coordinate directly with the inspectors in the field.

The Geographic Information System Division has been working to create a series of interactive and downloadable maps available to the public. The interactive maps provide customers the ability to obtain information about property ownership and parcel boundaries, as well as zoning, business development, Wicomico County election districts, recent and historic aerial photography, recycling, Comprehensive planning, and location and information related to private cemeteries.

A user can search for a property by an address and find information related to a specific property. The downloadable maps include: environmental features; historic districts; census data; and election districts.

Municipalities support

Wicomico County continued its participation as a sponsor in the Maryland Town Manager Circuit Rider Program.

The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development provided grant funding to support administrative and planning efforts in the towns of Pittsville, Sharptown and Willards. The county worked in partnership with the Maryland Department of Planning Lower Eastern Shore in providing grant management support to local communities.

In addition, the department continues to partner with municipalities in a variety of functions, including, but not limited to: issuance of building permits for the towns of Hebron, Mardela Springs and Pittsville; fire safety inspections; flood plain review, and planning services.

General Services

General Services continues maintaining county buildings to provide a safe, clean, efficient and welcoming work environment for county employees. Each building has its challenges, needs and required maintenance.

Two major projects have been completed this year. Most notable is the completion of a new courtroom and supporting office spaces in the “new” Circuit Court building.

The area previously occupied by the State’s Attorney Office was completely transformed. Currently, staff is moving into the new offices. Trials are expected to be scheduled in the new courtroom early in 2020.

Partnership For Families

The Wicomico Local Management Board secured $1.1 million to implement direct-service programs for Families with Children.

More than $813,000 was awarded by the Governor’s Office for Children — the money will reduce the impact of incarceration on children, reduce youth homelessness, reduce child poverty and maltreatment as well strengthen families and support economic stability with in safe communities.

Local programs that received funds from the LMB for FY2019 include: Epoch Dream Center, Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Eastern Shore, Tri-Community Mediation, New Transitions. and Teen Court.

A total of $295,000 from Maryland State Department of Education that will serve Healthy Families home visiting program, ensuring that parent-child relations are strengthened, families are self-sufficient and functioning.

New department heads 

Jaclyn “Jaci” Curry has been named Human Resources Director.

Curry has been in the Human Resources field for more than 18 years of progressive experience in manufacturing and construction, with the majority of the years spent in the health care setting.

Born in Upstate New York, she is a graduate of Alfred University with a degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.

In 2001 she was offered a position with a local manufacturing company and transferred to the corporate headquarters in Salisbury a short time later.

In 2003 she graduated from Wilmington University with a master’s degree in Human Resources Management.

Michele Campbell-Ennis has been named Finance Director.

Ennis began her career with the county in the Finance Department in 2003. Originally a Finance Specialist, her duties were concentrated in payroll functions.

The payroll aspect of the Finance Department was later transferred to the Human Resources Department where she was quickly promoted to payroll manager. Shortly after, she was promoted to budget manager and has maintained an instrumental role in the budget preparation for the past 14 years.

During this time, Michele was promoted to the Director of Human Resources, a position she has held for the last eight years.

A Wicomico County native, she is a graduate of Parkside High School, holds a bachelor’s in Accounting from Salisbury University, a master’s in Human Resources Management from Wilmington University and a Doctor of Philosophy in Organizational Leadership from the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.

She is a Certified Public Accountant candidate and a member of Government Finance Officers Association. As an adjunct professor of Accounting at Salisbury University, in addition to her responsibilities with the county, she has co-authored several peer-reviewed publications and sits on various doctoral program dissertation boards. She has completed all degrees of higher education while being a full time county employee.

Having played a key role in the development of the County budget for several years, she is well prepared to lead the county as the Director of Finance. Ennis is a competent manager and well-versed in the county’s financial system. She will serve Wicomico County with the county’s best interests as her main priority.

Looking forward

With 2019 coming to a close, I am pleased with our accomplishments and I remain optimistic about our future.

The employees are our greatest asset and I have great confidence in them. With the strong financial situation of the county we will continue to succeed. The fiscal health is strong and our future is bright.

Thank you to everyone for your efforts and contributions which make Wicomico County such a wonderful place to live and work.

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