Crunching the numbers
Laura Price’s council candidacy focuses on Talbot’s fiscal health
EASTON — She doesn’t mind being known as the numbers cruncher. She loves creating and poring over colorcoded financial spreadsheets to generate more income for the county she’s always called home.
“March and April always mean extra hours,” Talbot County Councilwoman Laura Price said recently. “I’m a numbers nut. I love it. God bless my father, who was an accountant for 40 years. I think it’s in my DNA.”
Running for a third term on the Talbot County Council, Laura Everngam Price, 51, is determined to understand the numbers and figure out a way to help Talbot County thrive even as it faces daunting pressures to generate revenue and pay for big-ticket items like a new school, a new sheriff’s office, and a new or renovated health department building.
Price analyzes financial reports and budget requests because “you’re spending somebody else’s money,” she said. “You’re spending citizen taxpayer dollars, so it’s my job to ask hard questions.”
“This time of year, our finance director (Angela Lane) knows that I come to meetings armed with spreadsheets,” Price said. “After eight years, I think she’s gotten used to it, but I think she understands that I really analyze the budget.”
As a member of the council, “You’ve got to be able to prioritize things in the budget,” Price said. “Even if it’s a need, you still can’t always say yes to a request.”
“When I ran eight years ago, the economy had fallen off the cliff (during the Great Recession), and as a small business owner, I knew we needed to make cuts in the (county) budget,” Price said. “And I’m a Talbot County native. I love Talbot County, and I want to see a reasonable amount of development in appropriate areas. Those were really my two key reasons for running. They really haven’t changed much over the last eight years.”
First elected in 2010, the Republican has been a proponent of fiscal restraint. She also serves as a legislative liaison to the Maryland Association of Counties and is a member of the organization’s board of directors. She was sworn in for a fourth term with MACo in December 2017.
She travels to Annapolis weekly when the Maryland General Assembly is in session to advocate for Maryland’s 23 counties and lobby for more state highway user revenue to be returned to the county.
As a result of MACo’s efforts, Talbot County should see an additional $350,000 to $400,000 added to its coffers, Price said.
Price said she asked that county budget presentations be reconfigured and ranked by dollar amount rather than in alphabetical order.
“We used to get this information alphabetically, starting with the Ag Extension Office for $80,000. Why would that be the first thing we talked about? We literally went through the budget book alphabetically and talked about every single department. We would talk about a department and it’s $15,000 a year (among) the first 10 (line items),” she said.
“After the first year on the council, I said, ‘Can you please change the order, (ranking budget items) from the most expensive item to the least expensive? The top 10 are really the only ones that make the difference in the budget,’” Price said. “Once you get below those, you’re talking about ver y small dollar amounts. I would say it’s peanuts, but anytime you’re talking about taxpayers’ money, it’s not peanuts. But it’s not going to make the difference.”
Price then “took the categories and classified them by (function): The board of ed and Chesapeake College together are $43 million dollars, or 53 percent of our budget. We can’t touch that, and every year they ask it to go up,” Price said.
The second of Price’s categories is $16 million for public safety, which includes corrections, EMS, the sheriff’s office, emergency management, volunteer fire companies, central booking and employee pensions.
“To me, it’s easier to talk about seven (budget) ’buckets,’” Price said.
In her color-coded categorization chart, the items that seemingly occupy the most space only occupy 1.3 percent of the county budget, but include a variety of county services, from Upper Shore Aging, weed control and the arts council to social services, the Ag Extension Ser vice and Healthy Talbot.
She serves as council liaison to the Talbot Board of Education, Parks and Recreation Advisor y Board, Tourism Board, Local Emergency Planning Committee and the Airport Board. In a March 18 op-ed in The Star
Democrat, Price explained her fiscal policies and how the county could generate more revenue by temporarily augmenting the county’s unique property tax revenue cap, which is 2 percent or CPI-U (consumer price index), whichever is less.
“As a small government, fiscal conservative, I believe in low tax rates, but even I don’t think my property tax payment should go down. I’m happy if it stays the same,” Price wrote.
“Today, in 2018, the rate and amount are almost exactly the same as 17 years ago,” Price wrote. “Think of all the additional resources that could have been put into our county had our rates simply remained the same.”
As a way out of the dilemma, she has proposed what she calls the “The Price Penny Plan.” Property owners would pay a penny increase per year “plus our 2 percent revenue cap and limit it to four years to keep the current cap in place,” Price wrote on March 18. “This would allow for some moderate growth in the budget to pay for these items specifically. It would cost the average $350,000 homeowner a modest $35 and a $1 million homeowner about $100 per year. This could generate an additional $3 million plus the natural growth and get us closer to balancing our budget.”
“I’ve always believed that we should live within our means — even below our means — like any citizen does,” Price said.
As for income tax as a source of revenue, “Talbot County is always going to have a lot of unknowns when it comes to income tax because we are the county with the highest number of retirees, and so they’re not the average Joe or Jane who’s out working a job; they’re not our teachers or EMTs or paramedics or deputies who are earning an average salary,” Price said.
“(Retirees) are living either on a fixed income or investment income,” Price said. “A lot of (investment-income) retirees have two homes, and they can choose whether to make Maryland their home six months-and-a-day or Florida six months-and-a-day, and if (it’s) Florida or a state (with a similar formula), they pay zero income tax here.”
Price’s Eastern Shore roots are deep, “going back many generations,” she said. She and her husband Richard have owned and operated Ship and Print Place in Easton since 2002.
Their sons, both Eagle Scouts, graduated from Easton High School. Nicholas, a graduate of the College of William and Mary, will enter medical school in the fall. Justin, a political science major, is a junior at Elon University in North Carolina.
Price has been a member of the Mid-Shore League of Republican Women since 2002. She was crowned Mrs. Maryland America in 2005 and promoted a platform of healthy lifestyles. She is now a director of the pageant.
Price attended Easton High School until moving to Delaware to train as a national figure skating competitor in ice dancing. After graduating in 1984, Price attended the University of Delaware and continued her skating career, coaching all ages of figure skaters for many years.
From figure skating to columns of figures, Price feels her aptitude for precision, her passion for the welfare of the county, her experience as a small business owner and her ability to work collaboratively to get results are key reasons for her to serve a third term on the county council.
For more information on Price’s candidacy, visit www.vote4laura. com or visit her Facebook page at Laura Price for Talbot County Council.
The Price family posed for a photo with Gov. Larry Hogan, center, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards last summer during an outing sponsored by the Maryland Association of Counties. From left: Nicholas, Richard, Laura and Justin Price.
As legislative liaison for the Maryland Association of Counties, Talbot County Councilwoman Laura Price, right, offered testimony in January to the Maryland General Assembly committees, requesting an increase in highway user revenue back to the counties.
LAURA EVERNGAM PRICE