School funding, raises, taxes top budget talks
SUDLERSVILLE — More money for schools, performance raises for county employees, taxes and the South Kent Island sewer project were the focus of the third and final fiscal 2017 budget hearing.
The cafeteria at Sudlersville Elementary School on Wednesday, April 27, was filled with about 45 community members with questions about the proposed $130 million operational budget, of which 15 people spoke.
Former County Commissioner Mike Kova (2002-2006) said the county is “flush with cash,” having increased the budget by $13 million in four years without lowering the taxes.
“I like this, ‘Live, Work and Play in Queen Anne’s County,’” he said. “That sign ought to say ‘Live, Work and Pay in Queen Anne’s County’ because ... the citizens are paying a lot more.”
Koval said increased money has come into the county at the citizen expense and that maintenance projects, such as road repairs, are not being done. Koval said the shoulders are not being graded to allow water run-off and he can show the commission roads that are in disrepair.
One reason all the departments are asking for increases to budgets, he said, is because the county has the money in reserves, more than $20 million, to support those requests.
Sudlersville Elementar y Principal Richard McNeal asked the commissioners to imagine they were coaching a baseball team with 16 athletes. On this team, he said, three people have never seen or played baseball and don’t know the rules and six had played but were given incorrect training. Four of the families on the team do not have enough money to buy equipment, such as gloves, bats and helmets. One child is deaf “but otherwise healthy,” and three children do not speak or understand English, he said.
On top of the various individuals comprising the group, the team only received two bats and three balls for the entirety of the season. In two weeks, McNeal said, someone from the state will be in attendance to assess the team’s progress and the commissioners’ approach to coaching and developing them.
“Knowing this, you now have to develop a plan for practice and training. This is your responsibility as a coach,” McNeal said. “This is similar to what many of our teachers are challenged with every single day.”
McNeal asked the commissioners to fully fund the board’s proposed budget because without the resources to support those children, to keep class sizes down and to appropriately compensate the work of the staff, “the children in our schools will not make the playoffs.”
Barbara Obert, who spoke at the two previous budget hearings in Stevensville and Centreville about the South Kent Island sewer project, submitted two public information requests to the board of county commissioners. The first request asks the commission to post the required engineering and cost study for the sewer project on the county’s website.
Obert said she requested the findings of the $1.4 million study at a previous commission meeting and thanked Commissioner Robert Buckey for publicly requesting the study be made available at a later meeting, though it was never posted.
Obert’s second request asked commissioners for information regarding the cash flow, budgeted amounts, spent and unspent money, revenue, debt and expenditures to account for the SKI sewer project.
“Why is this so important to the good people of Sudlersville? Looking out at the six year projections for this year’s budget it doesn’t include the schools, roads and additional emergency services costs that will be incurred in south Kent Island and the good people of Sudlersville and your taxes will help pay for,” Obert said. “What I hear from that is that there is a giant sucking sound of funds down to schools on south Kent Island that will be competing with the funds of your schools, roads and emergency services up here, and it’s something we have to account for.”
Jack Pullen with the county’s solid waste division of the Department of Public Works was one of three speakers to ask the commission to consider funding the pay for performance.
Pullen, a county employee for more than 25 years, said he recognized the importance of funding the board of education, that if he had “paid more attention rather than cutting up in school I might be further than I am now,” but asked the commission to support the employees of the roads, sanitary and solid waste divisions.
Lawrence Gannon with the Department of Public Works also requested the county fund pay for performance, saying the employees take care of the roads, sewers and take on various other projects in a range of weather to keep the county functioning smoothly.
The county commissioners will vote on the fiscal 2017 budget on Tuesday, May 17, in the Liberty Building in Centreville.
Follow Mike Davis on Twitter: @ mike_kibaytimes.
Barbara Obert, who spoke at the public budget hearings in Stevensville and Centreville about the South Kent Island sewer project, officially submitted two public information requests to the board of county commissioners regarding the proposed project during the Wednesday, April 27, hearing in Sudlersville.