Worcester Budget Maintains Core Services, Fully Funds Schools, Keeps Tax Rates Steady

Worcester County SealThe Worcester County Commissioners yesterday adopted the County’s $204.3 million fiscal 2021 Operating Budget. The budget holds the line on income and property taxes, fully funds the maintenance of effort requirement for Worcester County Public Schools, maintains core services, and provides funding for other post-employment benefits (OPEB) for County and school employees.

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the County last month cut $17 million from the FY 21 budget in order to account for the potential financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. This revised budget more accurately reflects the current economic forecast and brings the expenditure requests of departments and agencies in line with revised revenue projections.

According to a County press release:

Anticipated General Fund Revenues

  • Based on the Real Property tax rate of $0.845, NET property taxes increased by $4,232,386.
    • The Homestead Credit cap remains unchanged at 3% and is estimated to be $1,246,265 for the County’s qualified principal resident homeowners effective July 1, 2020.
  • Local Income Tax rate will remain at 2.25%. Revenues are anticipated to remain flat based on the current economic uncertainties and the unknown effect of the closure of businesses, those who are unemployed, and the phased-in reopening for businesses and Tourism.
  • Other Local Taxes increased by $897,000 based on current estimates and includes an increase of $45,000 in Admission & Amusement taxes, $500,000 in Transfer Taxes, $3,000 in Food tax administration and $338,000 in Recordation Taxes. Effective January 1, 2020 Room Tax increased from 4.5% to 5%.  As a result the administration collection increased by $11,000, and Room Tax receipts increased by $100,000 for unincorporated areas taking into account the construction and rebuilding of new hotels and the availability of rooms.
  • State Shared revenues increased $227,094 based upon estimated Highway User Fees from the State by $31,762 and County 911 fees by $195,332 based on the Maryland Department of Public Safety’s enacted increase of $.75 for each 911 accessible service rather than per subscriber bill which became effective July 1, 2019.
  • Licenses and Permits will increase overall by $99,700, based on an increase of $145,000 for rental license fees and decreases of $29,000 for the biannual occupational licenses and $10,000 for vending machine licenses.
  • Charges for Services decreased overall by $1,108,711. Increases include $57,100 and $127,775 for recreation and special event fees respectively for new programs planned by the Recreation Department. Decreases include $1,200,000 for Jail use for ICE housing, $20,000 for Jail work release, $45,000 for Roads department fees for outsourced contract road work, and $24,600 for recycling and metal revenue based on market trends.
  • Interest on Investments decreased $1,050,000 based upon projected rates of return.
  • Federal Grants project an overall increase of $17,614 due to increased estimates for the Homeland Security Grant revenue.
  • State grants increased $369,178. Increases include additional funds of $139,000 Program Open Space for Parks; $50,000 Waterway Improvement funds for boat landings; $155,852 State Aid for Bridges; $66,547 State Grant for Tourism; and $126,620 Statewide Special Transportation Assistance Program (SSTAP) grant for Senior Transportation by the Commission on Aging.  Decreases include $239,000 for State Land and Water Grant in Parks Department only requested in the current year.
  • Transfers in:
    • Planned use of Casino/Local Impact Grant funds decreased by $570,411 as table game revenue is used for the purchase of public safety equipment in the current year to benefit the County.

Major Approved General Fund Expenditures

County Departments and Agencies:

A summary of significant increases and decreases in approved expenditures include the following:

  • Other General Government increased by $267,011
    • Decreased by $24,995 in Information Technology network maintenance savings of  $65,000 and $37,684 more for software maintenance agreements.
    • Decreased by $36,472 in the SDAT cost share reimbursement to the State for the operations of the local State Department of Assessments and Taxation. The reimbursement rate of 50% is continued for current year.
  • Increased by $330,398 in capital equipment including:
    • $15,972 to upgrade the phone system for the State’s Attorney building to VOIP (voice over internet protocol), saving the State’s Attorney telephone budget $9,000 annually.
    • $314,426 for other capital equipment from the remaining revenue surplus, as a contingency which would be available to replace capital equipment that may fail during the fiscal year. Unspent funds will fall to surplus if not spent during FY21.
  • Sheriff’s Department increased by $168,009
    • Increased by $225,382 in personnel services to include: a full time digital forensic technician by eliminating a part time office assistant, converting a part time Deputy to full time, additional hours for school crossing guards and a part time investigator. Increased overtime is included for $56,489.
    • Increased by $112,156 in supplies and materials to replace bullet proof vests, uniforms and law enforcement equipment.
    • Decreased by $180,000 in capital equipment due to the elimination of all capital requests.
  • Emergency Services decreased by $264,422
    • Decreased by $184,180 in supplies and materials for the following: $230,961 less in radio supplies and equipment and $74,652 less for Emergency Management Performance Grant.  Increases include $64,000 to replace AED Units in County buildings, and $53,392 additional grant funds from the Emergency Number Systems Board.
    • Decreased by $35,650 in maintenance and services, $19,950 for consulting needed in the current year, and $13,500 for delayed purchase of vehicle equipment.
    • Decreased by $11,152 for travel and training
    • Decreased by $118,000 in capital equipment due to the elimination of all capital requests.
  • Jail decreased by $134,208
    • Increased by $187,245 in salaries
    • Decreased by $216,467, with reductions of $210,000 for inmate food services and pharmaceutical.
    • Decreased by $50,288 in maintenance and services, with decreases of $89,000 for building operating expenses. Included is an increase of $39,062 for the medical contract previously approved.
    • Decreased by $54,698 in capital equipment, but includes $18,302 to upgrade the phone system for the Jail to VOIP, saving the telephone budget $4,000 annually.
  • Fire Company Grant is included for $2,520,000 based on the current funding formula and $321,810 additional funds to continue the baseline minimum of $250,000 for 10 fire companies.
  • Ambulance Grants increased by $755,381 for a total of $5,011,973 based on increased rates for base personnel and additional personnel supplements to Newark and Showell. This also includes funds to cover the Town of Ocean City’s expenses for providing EMS services to West Ocean City and to supplement Stockton Fire Department for a full-time paramedic.
  • LOSAP appropriation increased by $92,200, with the current year enhancement and retention bonus. The Pilot Paramedic Scholarship Program is included for $8,000 for a second year to provide 2 scholarships for tuition reimbursement.
  • Public Works- Roads Division decreased by $255,377
    • Increased by $63,098 in salaries
    • Increased by $25,919 in supplies & materials mainly due to small equipment attachments for vehicles
    • Decreased by $347,000 in capital equipment due to the elimination of capital requests.
  • Commission on Aging increased by $211,320
    • Increased by $126,620 for the SSTAP grant for Senior Transportation to be provided by the Commission on Aging rather than Shore Transit.
    • Increased by $88,200 in other charges to include $50,000 to extend the Community for Life program in the Town of Ocean City and all of Worcester County.
  • Recreation increased by $306,138
    • Increased by $127,583 in salaries for additional temporary staff to cover increased events
    • Increased by $165,235 in supplies and materials for increased Recreation programs and special events.
    • Increased by $20,870 in other charges for NRPA staff training and Sports Marketing Conferences
  • Tourism increased by $121,463
    • Increased by $65,913 for the Tourism State Marketing Grant
    • Increased by $46,000 for advertising by combining budgets from Economic Development and Recreation, and $10,000 for web page enhancements
  • Grants to Towns increased $205,958
    • Increased by $93,000 for restricted fire grant to the Towns based on the current formula
    • Increased by $122,958 in grants to Towns and includes an additional $42,854 each to Snow Hill and Pocomoke for infrastructure needs
    • Decreased by $10,000 in Ocean Pines Association grant
  • Insurance & Benefits decreased by $1,960,376
    • Decreased by $806,384 due to the renewed contract for the County medical and prescription insurance benefit and accounting for the cost-share for new employees
    • Decreased by $1,500,000 for Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) for a total of $5,500,000.  Additional OPEB funding is provided to the Board of Education for total County OPEB funding of $8.1 million in FY21.
    • Increased by $350,063 for Retirement contributions based upon State rates
    • Increased by $36,888 for social security taxes based on the estimated payroll
    • Increased by $42,233 for Workers Compensation insurance
    • Increased by $12,610 in property & liability insurance due to a 3% increase in the premium
    • Decreased by $12,053 for the State’s retirement administration fee
  • Debt Service increased by $720,106
    • Increased due to the 2019 bond for County projects and existing debt
  • Interfund Charges decreased by $394,893
    • Decreased by $394,893 in Transfer to Reserve given that funds are presently set aside in fund balance to maintain the current 10% reserve based on the approved expense budget
  • Salary accounts increased to include a 2% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for County employees, a step increment of 2.5%, and longevity pay for those eligible

Board of Education

  • The County allocation for the BOE’s operating budget is $94,611,239, an increase of $2,973,533 over the current year adopted budget as shown below. School construction debt is paid by the County on behalf of the BOE, but this debt is not reflected in the BOE’s budget. Instead, construction debt is included in the County’s operating budget. The BOE’s approved operating budget of $94,611,239 plus debt service of $12,494,881 totals $107,106,120 or 52.4% of the County’s total estimated revenue.

Visit the Worcester County website for more information.