Wicomico council approves budget with 1-cent tax cut

By Greg Bassett
Posted 6/29/22

Escalating real estate values in Wicomico County, federal pandemic aid and a projected bounceback in income tax revenues have allowed the County Council to approve a fiscal 2023 budget that increases …

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Wicomico council approves budget with 1-cent tax cut

Posted

Escalating real estate values in Wicomico County, federal pandemic aid and a projected bounceback in income tax revenues have allowed the County Council to approve a fiscal 2023 budget that increases spending by 7.6 percent.

The budget, which officially takes Friday, was approved after a review process that included repeated disagreements on the implementation of a new pay structure for county employees.

Overall, however, the seven-member council appeared cohesive on where and how to fund significant projects.

Under the county’s Revenue Cap that restrains the amount of money Wicomico can collect from property taxes, taxes on residential homes will decrease by a penny – from .09195 cents per $100 of assessed value to .09070 cents.

The owner of a median-valued $250,000 home who now pays $2,299 annually in county taxes, will pay $2,267 – an annual $32 savings. Cutting the tax rate by a penny reduces county revenue by about $600,000.

Drafted by Acting County Executive John Psota, spending will total $173.91 million, a $12.22 million year-over-year increase.

A significant portion of the 7.6 percent increase would go to paying to implement recommendations of a commissioned pay study that has called for county employee pay increases for employees.

Various council members insisted on selectively rejecting pay increases for certain county positions, which commission defenders labeled as bad public policy.

The goal of the pay study – completed by consultants Bolton USA – was to make salaries competitive within the labor market, as the county has experienced turnover and an inability to recruit qualified employees.

Although a series of pay amendments were approved on close votes, the final budget vote was unanimous.

The federal American Rescue Plan will add nearly $4 million to the county’s coffers. The county will also tap about $4.9 million from the prior/year fund balance.

The council approved borrowing $23.4 million to fund the Capital Improvement Plan, with money primarily going to school construction and a new Public Safety Building for the Wicomico Sheriff’s Office.

Continued capital funding was approved for the massive Mardela Middle and High School renovation and construction, as well as a roof renovation at various buildings at Wicomico High School.

Other funding targets include upgrades to the historic Courthouse, construction of an Applied Technology Building at Wor-Wic Community College, renovation work at Coulbourn Mill Pond Dam and various airport projects including runway extension.

The spending plan also addresses recruitment and retention of volunteer first-responders in volunteer fire companies.

Funding for volunteer fire and EMS companies will increase by $1.3 million, which includes a length of service awards system to assist with recruitment and retention of members.

A last-minute budget change provided $1 million in potential funding for enhanced school safety.  The county’s contribution to the Wicomico Board of Education will increase by $260,000 year-over-year, in accordance with state formula.

Some $325,000 was appropriated to allow for the continuance of our efforts to provide county sewer service in areas experiencing septic failures. Additionally, $70,000 has also been appropriated to assist the health department with septic inspections and permitting.