Crunch­ing the num­bers

Laura Price’s council can­di­dacy fo­cuses on Tal­bot’s fis­cal health

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By CON­NIE CON­NOLLY cconnolly@ches­pub.com

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.

PHOTO BY JOE ANDRUCYK

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.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

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

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