St. Mary’s Approves $192.5M Operating Budget

The St. Mary’s County Commissioners have approved a $192.5 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, an increase of 1.5% above the current budget. A article provides an overview of the FY12 budget.

After much debate about spending on education throughout the budget process, the commissioners supplied $77 million to public schools, an increase of $750,000 from what state rules say they must provide to give the same amount of funding per students provided last year. The county allocation to public schools was an increase of 1.4 percent.

The extra $750,000, combined with reallocation of other school funds, should rehire 18 teachers who were notified earlier that they would not be returning in the fall, the school superintendent said last week.

“There are no changes to the tax rates,” said Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer for county government, on Tuesday. “There haven’t been changes in quite some time.”

The property tax rate remains at 85.7 cents per $100 of assessed value, which is expected to produce $99.5 million, an increase of .3 percent. The income tax rate stays at 3 percent and income taxes are budgeted to increase by 9.2 percent, for a total of $65.5 million.

The solid waste disposal fee on property tax bills will stay at $60 a year for now. Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) had suggested raising the fee to $75 a year.

The board is carrying forth a $12 million fund balance leftover from prior years while awaiting to see how state funding and mandates play out, Kramer said. “What more will the state do?” she said.

County government now has to pay for most of the tax assessor’s office, a state entity. Some of the money to fund teacher pensions could also be passed down to counties in the future, she said.

While county government employees, approximately 650 of them, won’t be getting any pay raises in fiscal 2012, they are getting a one-time stipend $500 to full-time employees and $250 to regular part-time employees. Hourly workers, elected officials and library employees don’t get the money. The stipend will be allocated over 25 pay periods, Kramer said.

County government eliminated 21 jobs this budget cycle. That does not include a plan to privatize Marcey House and move the St. Mary’s housing authority employees off county books. Those two plans would further reduce county personnel by 24.5 jobs.

The commissioners agreed to spend $1,048,000 of their operating budget on projects, reducing the need to borrow that money and taking on new interest payments.

The capital building budget is $25.9 million and requires no borrowing from bonding agencies in fiscal 2012, Kramer said. The largest-ticket item is $8.2 million to upgrade the county’s emergency communications system. Vendor support for the current system expires in January 2014.

Non-county groups that mainly provide social services are to divvy up $1.4 million from county government.

Commissioner Dan Morris (R) said, “To those organizations … those are goody things. They make you feel good,” but they aren’t essential services, like law enforcement, transportation and education, he said.

“We have to be accountable to the taxpayer on how every dollar is spent,” said Commissioner Cindy Jones (R).

“Nobody’s going to be happy with this budget,” said Commission President Jack Russell (D). “This is a fiscal reality check. Like Kenny Rogers, you gotta play the hand that’s dealt.”

Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) again voted against the budget as he has done since fiscal 2009. He said he opposed it because it did not provide schools an extra $1.3 million instead of just $750,000, did not reduce property taxes by $600,000 as he proposed and includes money to go forward with FDR Boulevard, a neighborhood connector road envisioned for California and Lexington Park. Jarboe said developers should pay for the road’s connection.

“Transportation infrastructure is not an amenity to businesses,” Jones said.

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