Commissioners OK $230 million budget by 4-1 vote
Tax and fee increases loom on the horizon
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.
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.