(May 22, 2020) When the Worcester County Commissioners discussed adjustments to their proposed FY21 budget on Tuesday, the most notable increase was in funding for the Ocean City and Stockton Volunteer Fire Departments.
With the revisions from the budget work session last week, the new budget’s revenue is estimated at $204.3 million and expenses at $203.8 million, leaving the county with a surplus of a little more than $551,000.
Harold Higgins, chief administrative officer, reported that he offered Ocean City an additional $184,000 to provide ambulance service to West Ocean City, but that the city had yet to respond to the offer.
County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic countered that the county had moved at the last session to provide the funding Ocean City said it needed, not to negotiate with them. Higgins responded that he misinterpreted what the commissioners said, and that Ocean City had reduced its original request from more than $400,000 to $330,000, which he reduced to $184,000.
“I do not believe the current summer activity will be the same, which is why we made some of the comments we did,” Higgins said.
Higgins also reported that when the county offered the Stockton department $11,000 in funding for another full-time employee, Stockton Fire Chief and President of the Fire Chiefs Association Tim Jerscheid declined the offer.
“He felt that by singling out a full reimbursement for Stockton, that wasn’t fair to the other companies,” Higgins said.
Mitrecic expressed frustration that in both cases, what the commissioners had moved for had not been done.
“We’ve backpedaled and we’ve changed that,” Mitrecic said. “I don’t think that’s productive. What was made in the motion should’ve been put in the budget.”
County Commissioner Ted Elder said he felt it would be unfair to give Ocean City more funding for ambulance services than the other companies, especially since calls in Ocean City and West Ocean City are estimated to decrease this summer.
“Ocean City is getting ready to turn a profit on ambulance services to West Ocean City,” Elder said. “There’s no other ambulance service in the whole county that’s making money. They’re breaking even at best.”
County Commissioner Joshua Nordstrom reminded commissioners that fully funding an additional full-time employee for Stockton was requested and prioritized.
“It wasn’t about being fair or unfair, it was about the safety of the citizens in the southern end of the county because having one full-time employee in Stockton alleviated pressure at four different companies,” Nordstrom said.
Mitrecic clarified that the actual cost for Ocean City to run ambulances to West Ocean City is nearly a million when including equipment.
“I don’t that Ocean City is going to make a profit by any means,” Mitrecic said. “I think this is what they’re looking at and they think is a fair number.”
He asked the county to give Ocean City an additional $330,000 for runs to West Ocean City and to add back in the full-time employee for Stockton.
“If they choose not to take that money, that’s up to their membership,” Mitrecic said.
Other revisions to the budget were reducing the Worcester County Detention Center’s revenue from immigration and customs enforcement by $1 million, reducing jail expenses by $175,750 and adding in two assigned fund balance projects – schematic design fees for Stephen Decatur Middle School and for the Pocomoke Warriors program.
The commissioners also agreed to fund three new plant operator positions for a total of $126,407.
With Tuesday’s revisions, the budget surplus was reduced to $377,297.