St. Mary’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the 2007 county budget Tuesday at $180 million, an increase of near $30 million from the current year budget, which expires June 30.

Commissioners reduced the county’s property tax rate and halved the energy tax; and budgeted $20 million in surplus funds that were accumulated as a BRAC “stabilization” fund in case cuts were made to the county’s Navy bases.

$14.2 million of the surplus was put toward next year’s capital construction budget, reducing the county’s need to borrow money for projects to $3.5 million.

Commissioner Larry Jarboe called this “forward funding” of projects “huge.”

Elaine Kramer, chief finance officer for the county, who called the budget “amazing” and “great,” said the reduction in required borrowing is “probably most amazing thing that (the budget) does.

“There’s some big issues that you started,” she added, speaking of other items in the budget, including $3.5 million for a future required trust fund for employee retirement; a 4 percent raise for all county employees, 12 new staff at the sheriff’s office (which includes five deputies), and a fully funded school board request, which allows for 42 new staff members.

The “forward funding” of planned projects saves the county $1.1 million a year in loan payments, Kramer said.

The 1.5 cent reduction in the property tax rate will save a typical property owner less than $25 next year, not enough to offset the increase in property valuations. The energy tax taken by the county on fuel purchases was reduced from 5 percent to 2.5 percent, costing the county about $2 million in revenue. This is the third consecutive year the county has reduced taxes, Kramer noted.

The budget also includes increased cash for the State’s Attorney’s Office for a domestic violence investigator, money for College of Southern Maryland, Board of Elections, libraries, a proposed trash transfer station and the 911 communications center.

Each commissioner thanked the staff for all the work involved in the budget, and each other for being willing to compromise.

Commissioner Tom Mattingly called the budget “responsible.”

Commissioner Dan Raley said he is proud of the “paygo,” or forward funding plan, as well as the tax reductions and increased deputies on the street.

But he said he was concerned about the ever increasing need for police, and stated it costs $122,000 to put a single new deputy on the street.



Commission President Tommy McKay said the county “has been a model around the state for the last couple years for responsible budget spending.”

As for increasing crime, McKay said education and associated after-school programs are the best offense against crime.

“There’s nothing we can do that&rs