Culver unveils $143.7 million spending plan

Increased revenues from property taxes combined with efficient spending has allowed County Executive Bob Culver to draft a fiscal 2018 spending plan that keeps tax rates unchanged.

The budget formally presented Tuesday to the County Council totals $143.7 million, a 6.2 percent increase over the current year’s budget of $135.2 million.

The property tax rate will remain $0.9516 on each $100 of assessed property value.

The annual median property tax bill in Wicomico is $1,530. Residents in only four other Maryland counties – Somerset, Garrett, Allegheny and Dorchester – pay a lower median tax bill.

The county’s personal property tax on businesses will remain unchanged at $2.1715.

County revenues, mostly from income taxes in the form of the 3.2 percent piggyback tax, are expected to increase by about $8.4 million in the coming year.

County leaders, however, have immediate uses for that additional revenue.

Culver would increase school board spending by $1.08 million to satisfy state Maintenance of Effort formulas. He would increase county support to Wor-Wic Community College by $843,000, adjust overtime rules at the county Detention Center that would increase pay there by $490,000 and fulfill negotiated step increases of $148,000 to Sheriff’s Office deputies.

Additionally, the County Executive would increase stipends to county volunteer fire companies and ambulance services by $495,000 and create a new fire service location at the Wicomico Airport.

County employees would receive a second consecutive 2 percent cost-of-living raise, matching the $470,000 dedicated for that purpose in the current budget.

The county will borrow less money for capital spending needs and finance more projects out of its Fund Balance. Culver is seeking $9.1 million in capital spending, projects, including $1.2 million for Roads Division equipment, $1.2 million for new Sheriff’s Office vehicles and $700,000 for a new roof and HVAC system at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.

Other capital projects include $861,500 for county building repairs, $350,000 to extend water lines from Wor-Wic Community College to the county airport and $600,000 to find a site and perform preliminary engineering for a new Wicomico Sheriff’s Office.

The budget breakdown has 43 percent of all county spending directed to education and 37 percent going to health and public safety. About 78 percent of the county’s total debt load is taken up by school board facilities and construction. The county is now in the process of building a new West Salisbury Elementary School.

At a public input session held last Thursday at the Civic Center, several county teachers, principals and parents asked Culver to add $2.8 million – as a one-time request to the budget – for technology improvements to laptop computers, as well as the addition of more portable classrooms at overcrowded schools.

School board President Don Fitzgerald asked Culver to “keep an open mind” on the request. Culver, when later addressing schools Superintendent Donna Hanlin, suggested the $2.8 million request should have been factored into the school system’s budget.

 

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

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