Spending needs omitted from Wicomico budget

County Administrative Director Wayne Strausburg, speaking at a County Council work session this week, told members he will request another $226,000 for the just-begun Fiscal 2018 spending year to cover shortfalls.

Strausburg, the top deputy to County Executive Bob Culver, said he will formally make a request next month that the money be taken from the county’s contingency fund. That fund contains cash needed for unexpected expenses or emergencies.

The money Strausburg will request will be used to pay for workers’ compensation for volunteer firefighters, as required by state law, and to pay $86,000 to Tyler Technologies, the company that provides computer software for the county.

“We are going to have to pay (workers’ compensation) premiums … we are going to need that appropriation to cover those premiums. There’s no other way, unfortunately,” Strausburg said.

At Tuesday’s County Council work session, Strausburg said budget errors were discovered by newly appointed Finance Director Dawn Parks. She was preceded by former Finance Director Leslie Lewis, whom Culver fired in May.

“The problem is that the budget does not have enough money in it to pay the bills,” explained Councilman Marc Kilmer. “Money was not requested by the executive’s office for the budget. It wasn’t prepared correctly,” Kilmer said. “It should not have happened.”

No money is missing from the county’s accounts. The shortfall is part of a budget error in which planned spending wasn’t included.

“This is the beginning of the year. The fiscal year started in July. It is extremely unusual. This is very concerning in that this should have been in the budget. This is a little bit astounding that this sort of mistake is made in the budget. It’s very unusual,” he said.

Even so, Kilmer — who is especially outspoken on budget matters — credited Strausburg for taking the matter before the County Council and not hiding it.

“Unfortunately, it happened this way, but we can deal with it. It’s very disturbing,” he said, “but this is not due to the council. The council cut stuff but this is stuff not included in the budget, and it is very concerning.”

During the work session, Councilman John Hall labeled the mistakes “pretty significant” and asked if they were discovered during the annual audit. Strausburg said Parks found them before the audit.

The county is audited regularly by PKS & Co. of Salisbury.

During the budget process each year, department heads prepare requests, which are presented to the County Executive, then to the County Council. The County Executive is responsible for the budget. The County Council can only make cuts.

Hall called the amount needed from contingency fairly small compared to the total annual budget, although, he said, it is still taxpayers’ money.

“I bet there are a lot of people who would disagree with you. It’s significant enough,” Councilman Larry Dodd said.

“We’re certainly not pleased,” Strausburg said.

Last week, Strausburg said, county officials met with Salisbury Mayor Jake Day and discussed outstanding invoices the city owes the county, so unanticipated revenue will be received. He did not disclose the amount.

Strausburg asked that a resolution be written acknowledging the error in the budget and stating payments were made.

Councilman Joe Holloway said throughout the budget process, the County Council was criticized for its actions. “Before anyone stands up and complains,” he said, “they ought to make sure their own house is in order.”

“We heard a lot about what we were doing wrong. It looks like there were some problems on the other end, too, so I hope in the future that will be handled differently,” Holloway said.

During the meeting, Kilmer asked if county funding was included for Station 13, the volunteer fire department formed after volunteers broke away from the city early this year. Strausburg said $145,000 in the budget “would be to recognize volunteer stations in incorporated areas” but that Station 13 is not funded.

“They don’t have a territory and are not being covered financially,” he said.

County Council President John Cannon asked why it has taken so long to find a shortage of nearly $1 million. “How does this not come up?” Cannon asked.

“We can discuss that in closed session,” Strausburg told him.

Later, Kilmer explained the figure Cannon mentioned referred to a different budget issue and included money from the FY17 budget concerning bond and interest amounts.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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