Com­mis­sion­ers OK $230 mil­lion bud­get by 4-1 vote

Tax and fee in­creases loom on the hori­zon

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JAC­QUI ATKIELSKI jatkiel­ski@somd­news.com

The new St. Mary’s County gov­ern­ment bud­get was ap­proved by the com­mis­sion­ers in a 4-1 vote Tues­day, to­tal­ing $230 mil­lion.

Only Com­mis­sioner Mike Hewitt (R) voted against the bud­get. Com­mis­sion­ers Tom Jar­boe (R) and John O’Con­nor (R) were at the meet­ing via tele­con­fer­ence.

Tax in­creases to ben­e­fit the Lexington Park Vol­un­teer Res­cue Squad and the Sec­ond Dis­trict Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment and Res­cue Squad in Val­ley Lee also passed.

Com­mis­sioner Todd Mor­gan (R) voted for the tax in­creases but said that those involved needed to “sit over beer” to fig­ure out what their needs are for the “ben­e­fit of the cit­i­zens of St. Mary’s County.” The in­crease for the Val­ley Lee sta­tion had been par­tic­u­larly con­tentious re­cently.

Hewitt said he didn’t “think it was fair for peo­ple to pay

ad­di­tional taxes … when they don’t know what they’re go­ing to get,” re­fer­ring to the more fluid plans of the pro­posed 27,216-square-foot Val­ley Lee sta­tion at a cost of about $8 mil­lion.

“It took awhile to get here, but we’re here,” Jean­nett Cud­more, county chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, said of the new bud­get, adding, “We ac­com­plished a lot this year.”

The com­mis­sion­ers are keep­ing the prop­erty tax rate where it is, cur­rently at 84.78 cents per $100 of as­sessed value.

Prop­erty taxes are ex­pected to bring in $110.4 mil­lion, or 49 per­cent of the county’s bud­get.

The lo­cal in­come tax rate will stay at 3 per­cent, ex­pected to gen­er­ate $93.9 mil­lion or about 41 per­cent of the county rev­enue.

County gov­ern­ment staff will con­tinue to cap the in­crease in tax­able as­sessed value at 5 per­cent.

Taxes saved through se­nior tax cred­its have de­creased from ap­prox­i­mately $1.1 mil­lion last fis­cal year to $1 mil­lion in fis­cal year 2019. Re­duc­tion of the se­nior tax cred- its is due to the re­duced num­ber of an­tic­i­pated ap­pli­cants.

The com­mis­sion­ers are also go­ing to in­crease fees for the county’s solid waste en­vi­ron­men­tal ser­vice fee from $72 a year on prop­erty taxes to $91. That in­crease should gen­er­ate an­other $877,000 for trash and re­cy­cling ser­vices. While this in­crease is just $19 this time, the county plans to in­crease the fee by 2 per­cent each fol­low­ing year. Hewitt did not vote in fa­vor of this in­crease.

In ad­di­tion, the com­mis­sion­ers voted unan­i­mously to raise fees at the depart­ment of land use and growth man­age­ment. Those in­creases are pro­jected to raise an­other $140,000. The depart­ment’s user fees haven’t changed since 2010 and the build­ing and per­mit fees have been un­changed since 2004. A change in user fees would come on Dec. 1 and the build­ing per­mit fees would change on July 1.

Not in­clud­ing $1 mil­lion set aside for school safety, the county will fund about $104 mil­lion of the St. Mary’s County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion’s lo­cal fund­ing re­quest. School board mem­bers are ex­pected to vote on an up­dated bud­get at their May 23 meet- ing, but ten­ta­tively voted ear­lier this year on a $216 mil­lion to­tal op­er­at­ing bud­get, in­clud­ing county, state and a small amount of fed­eral fund­ing.

The St. Mary’s County Sher­iff’s Of­fice is to re­ceive $40.4 mil­lion, a $1.8 mil­lion in­crease from last year.

St. Mary’s County gov­ern­ment de­part­ments’ to­tal bud­gets come to $47.5 mil­lion, with the depart­ment of pub­lic works and trans­porta­tion re­ceiv­ing the most fund­ing at $18.6 mil­lion. County em­ploy­ees are sched­uled to re­ceive a pay raise as well, Cud­more said.

The county’s debt pay­ments are bud­geted at $11.6 mil­lion, which is 5.07 per­cent of rev­enues. The county’s pol­icy is to keep debt pay­ments be­low 10 per­cent of rev­enues.

St. Mary’s gov­ern­ment’s debt is ex­pected to be $73 mil­lion in fis­cal 2019, not in­clud­ing debt in­curred through the St. Mary’s County Metropoli­tan Com­mis­sion.

County re­serves will to­tal $45.3 mil­lion in unas­signed fund bal­ance, bond rat­ing re­serve and a “rainy day fund.” The com­mis­sion­ers’ pol­icy is to have 15 per­cent of its rev­enues in re­serves. The new to­tal is at 20.55 per­cent. About $30.3 mil­lion of that money is unas­signed.

The county’s cap­i­tal con­struc­tion bud­get is now at $58.7 mil­lion in fis­cal 2019, with $11.9 mil­lion for con­tin­ued work on FDR Boule­vard, $4.9 mil­lion for the next phase of the Three Notch Trail, and a com­bined $13.3 mil­lion for school projects at Green Holly, Hol­ly­wood, Park Hall el­e­men­tary schools, Great Mills High School and more.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

The all-Repub­li­can board of county com­mis­sion­ers, Tom Jar­boe, top left, John O’Con­nor, Mike Hewitt, Todd Mor­gan and Randy Guy, pres­i­dent, voted 4-1 Tues­day to ap­prove the county bud­get.

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