Harold Higgins

Worcester Chief Administrator Harold Higgins

(March 18, 2021) As the Worcester County Commissioners head into their initial budget review session on March 23, the largest hurdle they face is how to reconcile budget requests for FY22 that exceed projected revenue by more than $8 million.

Chief Administrator Harold Higgins presented a summary of the budget requests from county departments and agencies during the commissioners meeting on Tuesday.

Higgins said general fund revenues for FY22 are estimated to be $210.6 million based on current tax rates, with operating expenditures and requests totaling $218.6 million.

The commissioners have three choices, Higgins said, cutting expenditures, finding new money, or some combination of the two.

As if that weren’t enough for the commissioners to think about, Higgins reminded them that Maryland General Assembly has yet to finalize the state budget, which could mean more difficulty for the county, depending on how the legislature sorts out its own financial situation.

From the revenue standpoint, Worcester did get a bump from this past year’s round of assessments and adjustments, with an additional $3.1 million coming in  from that sector at the current property tax rate of .845 cents pr $100 in assessed value.

The county treasury also expects to receive an additional $3.5 million in local income tax at the current 2.25 percent rate. Altogether, the piggyback tax, as it’s known, is projected to produce $30 million in FY22.

Other increases for next year are: recordation taxes at $2 million and transfer taxes at $1.5 million, state shared revenues by more than $657,000, including a roughly $705,000 rise in 911 fees, which is offset by cuts of more than $47,000 in highway user fees.

On the downside of the ledger, however, are license and permit fees, down by $89,000, charges for services are slated to drop by $2.6 million, and the Worcester Jail will no longer get the $2.5 million from the federal government for housing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees.

Interest on investments is estimated to drop by $650,000 in FY22 based on current rates of return.

State grants are slated to drop by more than $1.1 million for FY22, with an increase of $450,000 for recreation-based Program Open Space funding offset by decreases of $670,000 for parks related Open Space monies and $980,000 for bridge repairs.

Meanwhile, requested expenditures for FY22 represents an increase of 7 percent over the current budget year.

County departmental increases for FY22 include: $175,888 for the State’s Attorney Office, $212,623 for the Elections Office, $2.2 million for the Sheriff’s Office, $1 million for Emergency Services, $292,295 for public works, $459,074 for roads, $112,120 for Wor-Wic Community College and $640,388 for recreation.

The expenditures also include an overall $2.52 million fire company grant and $5.08 million ambulance grant.

Taxes shared with municipalities are estimated to increase by $297,100 in FY22, along with grants to towns increasing by $1.09 million.

Salary and benefit costs are anticipated to rise by about $4.6 million in the FY22 operating budget.

The Board of Education FY22 budget request tops $97 million, which includes one-off capital funding, for an increase of $1.7 million over FY21.

The Board of Education capital budget request also includes debt of more than $12 million, for a total of $109.5 million that represents 52 percent of Worcester’s total estimated revenue.

The first budget review session with county departments and agencies is scheduled for March 23 with a second round set for April 13. The FY22 budget public hearing will take place on May 4 at 7 p.m. Additional budget work sessions are slated for May 11, 18 and 25 if needed. Budget adoption takes place on June 1.

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