Wicomico OKs budget, but final deadline is Monday

Budget-Bill-Amendments-Adopted-by-Council

Unless the three Wicomico County Council members on the losing side of last week’s budget vote can persuade one of their colleagues to change their viewpoint by Monday, a $153 million spending plan will become law.

Tempers flared, discussion was pointed and the mood was tense several times last Tuesday night, as the seven council members went through their list of proposed cuts to County Executive Bob Culver’s fiscal 2021 budget.

Under the County Executive form of government, Culver and his team craft and submit the budget; the council can cut the plan, but cannot add any spending.

After meeting May 19 and appearing to form a consensus on a massive array of cuts and funding redistributions — nearly $3 million in all — a council majority acted last week to temper that course.

After a series of back-and-forth discussion and a series of votes, the council agreed on a 4-to-3 vote to make about $1.05 million in reductions and $1.03 million in reallocations.

After previously going through a long list that included abolishing money earmarked for several unfilled county positions, trimming proposed raises for county employees, and restructuring pay grades and salary rates for some key leadership posts, much of that thought-to-exist consensus evaporated when Councilman Bill McCain presented his own list of changes.

Council Vice President John Cannon, in leading the May 19 discussions, had sought to cut the budget as much as possible, saying the county needed to place as much cash as possible in reserves in advance of economic hardships expected as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

McCain’s list appeared to catch Cannon, Council President Larry Dodd and Councilman Joe Holloway off guard. When McCain made a motion that the council approve his list, Cannon objected and asked that each item be considered — as was the format in the previous meeting.

The council, however, voted to approve the McCain plan, with members Ernie Davis, Josh Hastings and Nicole Acle joining McCain the majority.

Later, the same four members prevailed to approve the budget.

McCain’s list included $265,000 requested by State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes for prosecutor and investigator positions, a half-million-dollar increase for roads maintenance and the restoration of a $480,635 cut previously proposed in raises for county employees. Culver had sought a 5 percent pay hike, the council initially agreed to 3 percent, McCain’s plan restored the raises to 5 percent.

Under the county’s November 2000 voter-approved revenue cap, the amount of revenue generated by property taxes may only increase by 2 percent year over year. With state assessments on the rise in Wicomico, the estimate is that — under the current tax rate — property tax revenues will increase by about $1.65 million.

That required the county to lower its current tax rate only by a miniscule amount, from 0.9347 cents per $100 of assessed value to 0.9286 cents.

A single-family home in Wicomico County assessed at $200,000 would see its property tax bill drop from $1,869.40 to $1,857.20, or a difference of about $12.20.

Capital plan

The council was unified when it came to changing the Capital Improvements Plan.

A five-year planning document, the CIP budget schedules borrowing and spending on big ticket items.

Capital spending is in flux for the coming year, given the county’s organizational problems that could affect borrowing, as well as uncertainties in the economy.

The council, however, restored spending plans for three school board projects.

  • Beaver Run Elementary — The council restored the fiscal 2021 appropriation of $7 million to be provided from bond proceeds or other new debt for continued construction of the new Beaver Run Elementary on Old Ocean City Road.
  • Westside Intermediate School — The council restored $281,000 to be borrowed for roof repairs to Westside Intermediate in Hebron.
  • Mardela Middle and High School — The council approved the borrowing of $2.5 million for the first phase and planning for a newly renovated high school in Mardela Springs.

As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.