Ocean City Today

County begins evaluating budget proposal

Staff recommendations given heavy weight during negotiations this Tuesday
By Brian Gilliland | May 11, 2017

(May 12, 2017) As the Worcester County Commissioners sat down to the first work session dedicated to trimming the proposed budget, they found a document that had already been combed through thoroughly, with the nearly $6.7 million shortfall between revenues and suggested expenditures eliminated.

The county’s budget committee, comprised of County Administrator Harold Higgins, Treasurer Phil Thompson and Budget Manager Kathy Whited, even had a little room to spare, ending up with a surplus of $5,739 before the commissioners made their own changes.

Though the final decision is in the elected officials’ hands, the staff recommendations were given great weight during the first round of work sessions on the document, with another scheduled for next Tuesday following the board’s regular meeting and another the following Tuesday in Snow Hill.

In general, the committee’s recommendations were accepted without comment, and allowed a streamlined process that used to take several sessions in recent years to be completed in a few hours.

Commissioner President Jim Bunting was delighted by the change.

“I see a cut here, a cut there, it seems like they got the message,” he said.

“In defense of the department heads, they were well prepared when they got to us,” Higgins replied.

Several departments, such as Emergency Services and the Sherriff’s Office, saw reductions in overall salaries and vehicle requests. A request by the jail to replace the kitchen’s HVAC system was removed from its own budget and placed into the county’s overall capital improvement budget, which had more than enough of a balance to handle the $425,000 project, according to Higgins.

Not to say there weren’t some small eliminations made either. The Fire Marshal had $25 removed from its vehicle registration account, and a donation to the Ocean City Development Corporation for $1 was also excised.

“I’ll take the savings of a dollar,” Commissioner Ted Elder laughed as the measure passed unanimously.

Added back into the plan was the entirety of the Board of Education’s capital improvement requests of $566,100, which had been cut to $167,000 by the committee.

Superintendent Lou Taylor had outlined four projects: updating the energy management systems at Buckingham Elementary and Snow Hill Middle schools, replacing the chiller at Stephen Decatur Middle School and installing a swing in the courtyard at Cedar Chapel. The Snow Hill Middle and Stephen Decatur Middle projects had been zeroed out, but the commissioners decided to fund the projects anyway.

Absent was a line item to provide video access to the commissioners’ meetings, a hot-button issue in the past, and $7,700 to purchase tablets or laptops for the commissioners to reduce paper usage for county meetings was also zeroed out, though the board was told directly by Higgins that the move would save the county significant money.

The changes made so far are still largely preliminary, and won’t become official until the budget is formally adopted, which is expected to occur on June 6. If, however, the commissioners come to an agreement on a proposal they think will pass a vote, they may cancel an upcoming work session in advance of the June 6 meeting.

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