Caro­line holds round­table bud­get dis­cus­sions

Times-Record - - Front Page - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­record.com

— 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.

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