Leonardtown, MD – The St. Mary’s County Commissioners held six public hearings last Tuesday, April 23 on the recommended fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget, listening to concerns from constituents, primarily on proposed tax raises.

“Your proposal to raise our property taxes go against Republican principles on which you were elected,” said former state delegate Deb Rey, a sentiment echoed by many of the speakers. Rey addressed the all Republican board during five of the six hearings, representing herself for one and the St. Mary’s County Republican Club for the other four. Rey said she understood the position the commissioners are in but was stern in her opposition of the proposed raises. “[raising taxes] goes against the outright promises four of you made to lower taxes.”

The proposed tax raises include a .2 percent income tax increase (3% to 3.2%) and a hike in the property tax rate from $0.8478 to $0.9078. Commissioner Todd Morgan [R-District 4] has defended the raises, describing them as a necessary evil. Former Del. Rey addressed the commissioner directly on some of his comments stating, “Commissioner Morgan, you are fond of saying ‘it’s just a happy meal.’ Well sir you’re wrong. Property owners need this money more than the government does and therefore we say no to this tax increase.”

The commissioners have cited a looming minimum wage increase to $15/hr by 2025 in Maryland and the Kerwin Commission that increases school funding through grants as reasons for the tax increases. Southern Maryland Association of Realtors (SMAR) President Judy Szynborski spoke in opposition of this idea while citing her earlier written “letter to the editor.”

Szynborski pointed out that Governor Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and several other state officials have said that “there is no need for counties to increase property taxes this year.” Delegate Matt Morgan [R-District 29A] spoke similarly when he addressed the commissioners during an April 19 public forum, urging them to take a second look at the “heavily amended” legislation in question.

County Chief Financial Officer Jeannett Cudmore presented an outline of the chief needs for an increased tax revenue as five-year budgeting to fund future expenses, pay parity for both the board of education and county/sheriff employees. The largest increases, per department, come from the county (increasing from $47.5 million to $52.4 million) and the sheriff departments (increasing from $40.5 million to $44.9 million). The proposed total budget increase is up 12.7 percent over last year’s approved budget (from $230.2 million to $259.4 million).

Melissa Willey, mother of Jaelynn Willey who was a victim of the Great Mills shooting last year, spoke about the lack of funding towards school safety in the proposed budget. “Everybody wants something, everybody needs something. Our children need school safety. The board of [education] needs funding for school safety. We need our children to stay alive, I’m not a fan of burying mine, I’m sure you wouldn’t be a fan of burying yours. Please consider, again, the school safety budget.”

Commissioner John O’Connor [R-District 3] has been vocal on the lack of school safety in the proposed budget, citing it as one of the primary reasons he doesn’t support the budget. O’Connor, the budget’s lone detractor, equates the budget to a “one foot in the door, one foot out” approach and states that he “can’t support doing it halfway.”

The FY2020 budget is still not final. Budget work sessions pick back up May 7, with a decision needing to be reached May 21. The public can submit comments on the hearings to the commissioners through Tuesday, April 30. Submit comments to the commissioner’s P.O. box or to their email at csmc@stmarysmd.com.

Contact Jerold at staffwriter@thebaynet.com.