Raises, more money for schools top budget talks
CENTREVILLE — More money for the Queen Anne’s County Public School system, more money for Department of Public Works employees and removing money in the budget reserved for the South Kent Island Sewer project were concerns citizens expressed during the second of three budget hearings Tuesday, April 26. Tuesday’s hearing at the Liberty building in Centreville was also the constant yield hearing.
The room, which earlier in the meeting had been filled with elementary school students singing about character, was completely packed as community members spoke on the proposed fiscal 2017 budget of about $130 million.
Brian Hurd, a DPW roads division, spoke on behalf of his fellow employees in the sanitar y district, roads, solid waste, general service and engineering divisions regarding the county’s proposed budget. Hurd said they appreciated the commissioners funding a salary survey and supported the implementation of the study, and they were thankful for the cost of living adjustment proposed.
But Hurd asked commissioners to fund pay for performance salary increases as well. Hurd said the raises would serve as motivation to excel in their work.
“We work during snow storms, hurricanes and floods. We fix everything that breaks and we always strive to make improvements to our infrastructure so we may better serve and protect our county citizens,” Hurd said. “We have endured many years of lean budgets, fewer staff and limited resources and yet we all remain dedicated to our jobs and our county. We have continued to work hard and we know that our leadership has been recognized for these efforts. We ask to be rewarded according to our efforts.”
Chuck Kern, sanitary district maintenance supervisor, echoed the sentiments of Hurd and other DPW employees who spoke. He said his team members are essential personnel to the county and asked pay for performance be funded.
“We come every time we’re called. I’m on call 24/7. my guys rotate every six weeks on call, and we’re always rotating, and we’re always there for the county,” he said.
Holly Tompkins of planning and zoning, who said her more than 10 years of service to the county was recognized with a ceremony, also requested cost of living and the pay for performance raises be included in the final budget. Tompkins said she has received four pay for performance increases and “scattered COLAs” in her time in the county.
With a graduate degree from the University of Virginia in urban and environmental planning with a minor in road management, Tompkins sees herself and similar employees as the “caliber of employee that you wish to attract and retain,” she said. “That performance increase is pretty vital to keeping and understanding good employees and letting them know that you, the directors and other supervisors see our value and are appreciative for it.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carol Williamson, along with school employees and parents asked the commissioners to fully fund the board of education’s proposed $57,218,761 budget. The county’s proposed budget funds the schools at $53,787,293, which is more than maintenance of effort, a state law that requires each county spend as much per student as it did the previous year.
Though grateful for the support the county has given the schools the past three years, Williamson said fully funding its request would allow for compensating the employees as well as keeping class sizes as low as possible while maintaining services and quality.
“With your projected level of funding we’re not able to fund the step for our employees who would be eligible, nor could we provide any compensation for our 274 staff not eligible for a step, nor can we fund the positions we need,” Williamson said. About 85 percent of the school’s budget, Williamson said, will fund salaries and benefits for its staff.
For every dollar spent on education in Queen Anne’s County, Williamson said, referencing the Beacon Report conducted by Salisbury University, the county sees a $1.25 return for every dollar spent on education.
“While I understand the increased demands on county resources, it’s my responsibility to advocate for the schools and students who attend them. Comparative data produced by the state shows we have fewer staff, fewer materials and fewer resources than all but four districts in our state yet we expect our students to perform at the same or better level than most other counties,” Williamson said. “To accomplish that we need continue putting the most talented teachers in front of our students, and we must remain competitive in salaries and benefits.”
Queen Anne’s County High School Principal Jacquelyn Wilhelm said the extra funds would help the school have its first certified physics teacher in the past five years. She said the school has requests for five physics classes next year alone.
Wilhelm said because the school has not hired a new teacher, “we’ve reached the point that we can no longer offer the science courses we need with the staff we have. Class sizes have increased each year and based on current numbers we have six sections of science classes that we would have to close if we do not hire an additional teacher.”
Resident Ann Williams of Stevensville said, “As a civil servant myself, I applaud any effort that you do to support our staff and our salaries, but there’s a little reality check that’s going on that we all seem to miss that if you do a tax break, all us that live in Queen Anne’s County, including your working force that are not employees, would benefit from that.”
Williams asked the commission to remove the $9,615,000 allocated in its budget for the Southern Kent Island sewer project.
“You should wait till all the costs are in and make sure that it is a viable project before you put something as much as $9 million, because ... if the grants and loans and everything don’t go through, [it] comes from everybody,” she said.
County Administrator Gregg Todd said all of the SKI sewer project money will either be funded through the state through its loan program or a grant. Todd said of the money allocated for FY15 and FY16 budgets — $800,000 and $3.6 million, respectively — the county has spent about $1.4 million. Todd said the money is restricted to the project.
“Even if the commissioners said, ‘OK, we’re not going to spend that $9 million on SKI,’ it’s not available for anything else. It’s not available for teacher salaries; it’s not available for employee salaries; it’s not available for anything because it’s not our money,” he said.
Todd said the county only receives the money once the commissioners approve the project. He said the state and the county have signed the loan documents and will receive the money after approval.
The final budget is expected to be discussed and voted on during the May 17 commission meeting.
Employees of the Queen Anne’s County Department of Public Works stood in unison as peer Brian Hurd requested the county fund pay for performance for all county employees during the constant yield hearing in Centreville.