Raises, more money for schools top bud­get talks

Record Observer - - News - By MIKE DAVIS mdavis@kibay­times.com

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.

PHOTO BY MIKE DAVIS

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.

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