Caroline holds roundtable budget discussions
— The Caroline County commissioners began the annual process of balancing the coming fiscal year’s operating budget Tuesday, March 6, by meeting with the heads of county departments and allied agencies to go over spending requests and priorities.
At the end of the roundtable discussion, President Larry Porter said all of the submitted budget requests were reasonable, but some will have to remain unmet, as the commissioners must cut about $355,000 of those requests to balance them against $48.3 million in projected revenues.
“We’ll get there,” Porter said. “I just don’t know, sitting here today, how we’ll get there.
“I’m not going to increase taxes,” Porter said. “I believe we have taxed the residents of this county to the extent they can be taxed.”
The two roundtables — one each for heads of county departments and heads of allied agencies — began by giving each head a chance to go over requests for additional funding compared to the current fiscal year’s budget.
Many such requests were to increase pay or provide training or promotions for current staff, or hire more staff.
The commissioners’ budget includes a proposed 1.75 percent pay increase for all county employees.
Caroline County Sheriff Randy Bounds asked for $101,000 to train, equip and pay a new deputy.
That would be the fifth of five new road deputy positions the county commissioners committed to funding a few years ago.
Bounds said the additional deputy is even more necessary since the Maryland State Police handed over investigation duties for collisions on county roads to the sheriff’s office last July.
Bryan Ebling, director of the Caroline County Department of Emergency Services, said the proposed countywide 1.75 percent pay increase was imperative.
He also asked for additional spending for anticipated overtime increases, salary adjustments for employees completing certifications and eight new Emergency Medical Ser vices employees to run a fifth EMS station out of the Federalsburg fire house.
Ebling said he was looking into a plan to fund those eight requested EMS positions, projected to cost $371,000.
Caroline County Attorney Heather Price asked for $18,000 to increase her part-time assistant’s hours to full-time. Price said the assistant has proven invaluable in several large projects.
Caroline County Public Library Director Debby Bennett asked for $72,000, to fund a flat salary increase for employees and fill the assistant director position that has been left open since Bennett was promoted. Bennett said the assistant director duties have been split between herself and the library’s office manager, who plans to retire soon.
Bennett said the library’s board of trustees has already committed $80,000 of its unrestricted fund balance to the coming year’s budget, and the library is not making any funding requests in the county’s capital budget.
Caroline County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Patricia Saelens said the school system is proposing a 2 percent salary increase for its staff, and plans to hire two more teachers for Greensboro Elementary School, whose student population continues to grow — 19 new students have enrolled in the school since the beginning of Januar y.
Local jurisdictions are required by state law to maintain the same level of funding per student for the local school system; as Caroline County Public Schools’ official student enrollment grew by 84 students this year, the county government’s contribution grew by $238,560, to a total of just over $13 million.
Saelens thanked the commissioners for their additional commitment to building a new elementary school in Greensboro, which will relieve overcrowding in the current building.
Among the other department and agency requests were $12,000 to update the county government’s website; $42,000 in additional funding for volunteer fire departments; $30,000 to repair three Caroline County Department of Public Works dump trucks; $46,000 for Delmarva Community Service to match grants, replace two buses and provide a mobility management onestop office; $40,000 to increase Chesapeake College’s operating budget and $8,700 to increase its maintenance and repairs budget; and $7,500 for the Caroline County Office of Tourism to buy new visitor’s guides and pay for graphic design and social media management services.
Caroline County Warden Ruth Colbourn said the county’s detention center is operating with its lowest inmate population of her tenure; 61 inmates are currently housed there, compared to an average of 100.
Colbourn attributed that drop to the Justice Reinvestment Act, signed in 2016, which reduced maximum incarceration for many nonviolent offenses.
As a result of the lower population, estimated food and medical expenses at the detention center dropped; the funding request for FY19 is $24,000 less than the current fiscal year.
However, some of those savings might have to be moved to the sheriff’s office’s or Department of Emergency Ser vices’ budgets, when they have to deal with people who were released and returned to “their drug of choice,” Colbourn said.
Following each discussion, County Administrator Ken Decker asked the heads what the county’s spending priorities should be, outside of the heads’ own departments and agencies.
The new sheriff’s deputy, mental health, education spending and workforce development and retention were among the answers.
Saelens said mental health spending was a priority, as the school system is seeing young children suffering the effects of being raised by drug-addicted parents. More therapists and counselors are needed for those children, she said, to help them get back on an equal playing field with their peers.
Decker also asked the heads what overarching issues the county is facing, that should be considered while balancing the budget.
The opioid addition epidemic was at the top of that list.
“We need continued investing on anything that can impact the opioid epidemic on many front,” said Chief of Staff Sara Visintainer.