Wicomico year-out revenues likely to be lower

Wicomico County County Council President John Cannon delivered the bad news at a work session last Friday: Property tax revenues would likely be lower than expected next fiscal year and the council would have to make $411,197 in expected cuts.

“We spent a solid week reviewing what the perceived final property tax amount should be,” Cannon announced.

“I think in the final declaration it appears that the amount listed in the budget — $56,914,364 — actually, based on the different calculations, should be more in the range of $56,503,167,” he said.

When income taxes and other revenues are added, that would put the total available monies at $65,096,508.

Cannon also announced a process error concerning a one-time $750,000 earmark County Executive Bob Culver wanted to direct to the Board of Education to improve school security.

Cannon said the council’s lawyer, Robert Taylor, discovered that money would have needed advance approval from state officials, all related to the complicated Maintenance Of Effort rules that ensure proper local spending.

Cannon said the council would have to strike the $750,000 from the one-time category, but he then suggested giving the school board $500,000 as part of continuing MOE contributions.

If ultimately approved, adding money to the MOE funding would be a first for the council in many years.

The council last contributed to MOE in 2006, well over a decade ago.

The schools budget has a $43.6 million local contribution from the county.
On Tuesday, as the council prepared to meet late into the evening and make more budget adjustments, schools Superintendent Donna Hanlin sounded a cautious but appreciative tone.

“Based upon information provided to us as a result of their last budget work session, the council reached consensus to provide $500,000 above MOE,” Hanlin said. “It is our understanding that the final vote to approve this allocation will not occur until June 14.

“While we asked the council for funding to support the three initiatives as outlined in Imagine 2022, which includes the $1.3 million for Phase 1 of Universal Pre-K, we’re grateful for any funding above MOE that will allow us to begin our work on the implementation of this important initiative.”

Cannon acknowledged the cuts were a challenge and displeasing, but the revenue shortfall would not be overwhelming and not require a tax hike.
After Cannon’s announcements last week, the seven council members took turns suggesting cuts to close the $411,197 gap:

•$213,000 as part of a funding formula involving Worcester County and Wor-Wic Community College. Wor-Wic would still receive an increase over last year.
•$20,000 for Roads Department uniforms.
•$25,900 from Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development Inc.
•$30,000 for the Salisbury Independent Volunteer Fire Company Station 13.
•$350,000 from the Salisbury-Wicomico Regional Airport. Council members could not agree how to proceed, but reports on Tuesday suggested a compromise was in the offing.
•$37,829 for the salary of a new Public Information Officer to serve the County Executive.
•$4,200 for economic development billboards.

Cannon and his colleagues also targeted several departments for increases:

•The Wicomico Public Library for salary increases and health care costs. While library employees work for the county, they are treated separately.
•An additional crew for the Roads Department, charged with address drainage issues.
•$80,000 in salary and benefits for an additional prosecutor in the State’s Attorney’s Office.
The County Council is scheduled to adopt a budget for fiscal 2019 at a special meeting on Thursday, June 14. The new budget would take effect July 1.

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

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