The St. Mary’s County Commissioners appear ready to sign a proposed budget next week that they will take to public hearing on May 1. Details of the $200,807,910 budget were hammered out during a three-hour budget workshop Monday afternoon. The budget incorporates changes made to requests over a series of budget work sessions and still has almost $1 million more in revenue than anticipated expenses.
The commissioners tentatively agreed to use that extra revenue, generated largely by increases in income tax revenue, to pay cash (pay-go) for capital projects instead of having to create extra debt service by issuing bonds.
The commissioners also decided on the use of $10 million of the almost $30 million in fund balance. $7.5 million will be set aside for what is being called BRAC Stabilization. This is intended to cover any fiscal impacts on the county of another round of Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) activity. If the money isn’t needed it could be applied as well to pay-go.
The rest of the $10 million fund balance would be used to cover future costs of retiree health benefits, known as OPEB or Other Post-Employment Benefits, for the county and the school system. The commissioners agreed not to us a million of the fund balance for science textbooks, as requested by the school system.
The budget contains $3.5 million more for the schools, but falls short of the $5.5 million more in the Board of Education request,
It also contains $1 million more for the sheriff. The sheriff in the last week supplied the commissioners with a priority list for that additional money, including four new community policing officers in Lexington Park (instead of five) and four other full-time equivalent positions.
The commissioners also included in the budget more than $4 million to cover the potential cost of a shifting down of part of the teacher pension costs from the state to the county. The legislature still hasn’t finalized what they are going to do. If that is more than needed that money will also go to pay=go.
Perhaps the most agonizing discussion of the entire budget process to date came with the line-by-line decisions on how to fund non-county agency requests. These decisions are always difficult because they involve some very worthy causes the commissioners this year, and in previous years, admitted.
This year’s discussion showed a big rift in thinking, however. Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe largely favored, with a few exceptions, elimination of the $1.5 million in funding. Commissioner Cynthia Jones favored a phasing out but not elimination this year and with preference to social service agencies. Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell and Commissioner Todd Morgan mostly favored keeping them at current funding levels.
With Commissioner Daniel Morris often the swing vote, he offered compromises that cut the agency request by amounts ranging from modest to significant.
Jones insisted these are tough budget times and bound to ge