Culver’s budget includes no tax hikes, funds education

County Executive Bob Culver has sent a fiscal 2020 budget to the County Council that leaves property taxes untouched, fully funds the school board’s operational needs and awards county employees a 2 percent pay hike.

Even more so than in most budget years, the spending proposal that would take effect on July 1 was drafted in the face of a host of serious variables that could affect county revenues and just-over-the horizon expenses.

The county must address the state’s minimum wage hike (which will force changes to county salaries, wait for the spending fallout that will come from a state commission charged with improving local education (which will likely increase education spending requirements) and calculate possible revenue (which would come if a forecasted fall 2020 recession occurs).

Culver’s plan calls for $148.54 million in operational spending and $3.52 million in “pay-go” funding for capital projects already planned.

Last year’s budget totaled $150 million, after the County Council reduced Culver’s $151.39 million spending submission. The council has the power to cut the budget and adjust spending in certain areas, but has now power to increase spending.

Culver shared the budget with the council on Friday afternoon. The legislative body could react publicly to the spending plan at its regular work session on Tuesday.

Culver has proposed awarding $57.08 million to the Board of Education, which is about $1.87 million more than the county contributed last year. That amount would be about 38 percent of total county spending.

The second-largest recipients of county revenues are departments which oversee Public Safety and Health, which claim 26 percent of the budget.

Revenue derived from property taxes totals $66.86 million, which reflects a 3.76 percent increase in property base. Revenues from income taxes — so-called piggyback taxes added to the state’s collections — are $52.20 million. Those totals and other various revenue sources put total available receipts at $145.02 million.

In his attached budget message, the County Executive said his spending plan addresses the county’s core needs: public safety and health, education and county infrastructure.

“Recognizing that our citizens’ household and business finances are still under pressure, my proposed budget calls for no increase in either real or personal property tax rates,” Culver said.

This is the first budget offered by Culver in his second term and the fifth he has presented since his election in 2014.

Under the parameters of the county’s revenue cap on receipts from property taxes, the county’s property tax would actually decline by a miniscule amount, going from 0.9426 cents to 0.9346 cents. Every penny on the tax rate accounts for about $623,000 in revenue.

The big capital spending items remain consistent with previous plans: Money for a new Beaver Run Elementary on Old Ocean City Road, a new headquarters for the Sheriff’s Office and seed money for runway and hangar improvements at Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport.

Regarded as an untapped economic engine, Culver would hike spending at the airport, which would see and additional $50,000 in operational funding and a total of $220,000 in capital funds. The county is expecting state and federal contributions to eventually bring down that spending commitment total.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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