Ocean City Today

Department heads seeking more hands on deck in FY18

Staff, raises and equipment headline budget requests by county departments
By Brian Gilliland | Mar 30, 2017

(March 31, 2017) All the detailed budget requests presented to the Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday contained provisions for either increased staff, wage increases or equipment to support existing employees as years of austere budgets since the 2008 financial collapse appear to be either taking their toll, or affecting the services on which citizens depend.

Eight departments, taking Public Works as a whole rather than separate divisions as it was presented, outlined their needs for the coming year and all voiced some degree of concern.

For example, State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby said he had lost four assistant state’s attorneys in the past year to either the private sector or to Wicomico County, simply because those options paid better than what they had been making as a county prosecutor here.

Ken Whited, who multiple divisions of public works, including maintenance, boat ramps and mosquito control, said he was having trouble filling the lowest salary grade positions, which forced him to assign more expensive staff to more menial tasks.

Frank Adkins, in charge of the county roads division, said his department was reduced to “basically putting fires out” as the ranks of his employees have shrunk from 49 in 2007 to 34 today.

John Ross, in charge of water and wastewater, said performing utility location services that the department is obliged to do within 72 hours of the request has forced his operators to improvise in ways he doesn’t necessarily support.

“We’re seeing it in Mystic Harbour discharging to West Ocean City, which ends up at the Ocean City wastewater treatment plant,” he said.

He said his department is performing about 400 utility locations per month, and if he were to hire a private contractor it would cost the county $86,000 per year.

Merry Mears, director of economic development, was reduced to a single-person office for a while before hiring a new deputy director. Her request included two more employees, a coordinator at the business incubator in Pocomoke and a replacement office manager.

Emergency Services Director Fred Webster said he has supervisors overseeing five employees that make less than a first-year police officer. Webster reminded the commissioners that dispatchers were first responders too, and were often responsible for making life or death decisions.

Tourism Director Lisa Challenger pitched converting her part-time social media manager to fulltime, since the employee is often loaned to other departments and Berlin’s “Coolest Small Town” award in 2014 is still paying dividends.

At the jail, Warden Garry Mumford said he “wasn’t doing much hiring this year,” but attributed it to a lack of qualified applicants at the pay scale he could offer.

Treasurer Phil Thompson pitched a raise for his employees, and a possible joint project between the county and state’s attorney’s office to digitize closed case paperwork going back 15 years. Thompson estimated the project would take three to five years to complete.

Fire Marshal Jeff McMahon actually realized a surplus in salary funds, but that was because of some retirements and rehires at a reduced pay scale during the past year. He also requested replacement equipment for the new hires, which accounts for nearly half of the $18,500 saved from the salary changes.

The commissioners have a few more departments to hear from before they begin to make cuts, as the existing requests exceed revenue by about $6.7 million.

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