The Commissioners of St. Mary’s County (Photo courtesy of St. Mary’s County Government).
Leonardtown, MD — The Commissioners of St. Mary’s County have approved a recommended budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that will go to public hearing on April 14. The budget includes a $221.1 million General Fund and $37.4 million Capital Projects Fund. The commissioners balanced the budget, which includes a reserve of $682,000, while not increasing either property or income tax rates although they did increase the solid waste fee and are proposing increasing the rescue tax for residents in the Mechanicsville Rescue Squad area ((4th and 5th Districts).
The budget was forged over several months of work sessions. During the last two sessions on March 16 and 17 they trimmed $11 million from the budget by increasing income tax growth projections from a three-percent increase to a four-percent increase and by eliminating some payments this year to a fund for future retiree health costs.
The commissioners over the past several months have noted that they had come under fire from some of their supporters for their spending decisions, including building a new library and senior center and funding salary increases for employees.
Commissioner John O’Connor [R – 3rd District] at the March 24 regular meeting, before the decision on the budget, noted the criticism “of not being conservative” but said the budget recommended was close to 1999 funding levels. “It is not about tax and spend. It’s about providing critical services to the people,” he said.
Regarding the elimination of the $1 million solid waste subsidy that will lead to a $25 annual fee increase per property owner, O’Connor observed that it was not the commissioners’ fault that some people also paid for waste removal from their property in addition to the current $60 annual fee. Regarding eliminating the subsidy, he said, “It is unfair to take that tax money that could be used for other critical services.”
All of the commissioners urged the public to attend the hearing to make their feelings known. Commissioner Todd Morgan [R – 4th District] said, “It’s easy to complain in the back room but if you don’t complain to us we can’t hear you.” Morgan noted that the proposed budget was somewhat different from previous budgets because of all that was being put forward.
The proposed budget includes funding more than $4 million more for education than is required by the state under the so-called “maintenance of effort” formula. Commissioner Mike Hewitt [R – 2nd District], a former school board member, said, “That’s quite a commitment that we are partners in educating these children.”
Deputy Finance Director Jeanett Cudmore, before the commissioners voted, went over the proposed operating budget that is just $648,464 or .3 percent more than the current budget. It includes use of $5.1 million of the fund balance for non-recurring items. As the result of the proposal, $17.7 million remains in the fund balance, Cudmore said.
The property tax rate remains at $.857 per $100 of assessed value. If the Constant Yield had been used instead, property tax revenues would have been $543,849 less. The programs are also continued that limit property tax in increases for qualifying seniors.
The local income tax rate for St. Mary’s County remains at three percent of net taxable income. With the change in projected income-tax increases (due to an anticipated improved economy), there is a $1.5 million increase in revenue built into the new budget over the current budget.
Some other budget highlights as outlined by Cudmore:
• Budget includes $336,000 to fund a reclassification of county employees
• Everyone gets a one-step increase, including staff of the Board of Education and Sheriff’s Department. A step costs $688,000
• Health insurance costs will raise 11 percent next year.
• Vehicle replacement, including 15 for the sheriff’s department, will cost $2.1 million.
• The budget includes $50,000 for a Charlotte Hall area master plan.
• The sheriff is getting nine new positions, including four patrol deputies to be hired January 31, 2016.
• The state’s attorney is getting one new prosecutor and a legal assistant.
• A one-time operational grant for the Navy Museum of $130,000 will be taken out of this year’s fund balance.
• The $70,000 subsidy in the Wicomico Shores Golf Club account had been eliminated.
The budget public hearing will be Tuesday, April 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Great Mills High School. Commissioner President Randy Guy [R], as did the other commissioners, urged a large crowd. “Your voice will be heard and you will get a response,” he said.
Contact Dick Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org