The St. Mary’s County commissioners informally agreed this week to give raises to employees of local government after July 1.
At least three of the commissioners, President Jack Russell (D), Larry Jarboe (R) and Todd Morgan (R) agreed to provide two step increases for county government employees. Morgan said the last of the annual raises to county workers were given in fiscal 2011.
The raises that could result from the two-step increase would vary but as an example, a grade six employee at step 10 earns $48,651. The two-step increase would put the salary at $50,898.
On Tuesday, a majority of the commissioner agreed to limit the increase in the budget for the public schools to 3 percent. Earlier a 5 percent hike had been discussed.
In addition, nonprofit agencies were told Monday they can expect the same amount of funding next fiscal year that they got this year as the county commissioners made a series of decisions, many on 3-2 votes, prior to presenting a budget to the public for comment next month.
An expansion of the county jail, which has been on again, off again since December, was turned down again after the St. Mary’s County Planning Commission recommended including it back into building plans.
Two of the commissioners called for a slight reduction in the property tax rate, but the other three want to wait to make that decision. The budget goes to public hearing April 30 and needs to be finalized by the end of May to start July 1.
The residential property tax in St. Mary’s is 85.7 cents for each $100 of assessed value. The state annually comes up with a calculation for counties, called the constant yield, that would bring in the same amount of money as the year before. The new local constant yield rate in St. Mary’s would be 85.26 cents and would bring in a total of $100,871,861 to the county budget.
Commissioners Jarboe and Dan Morris (R) supported lowering the rate to that level Monday, which would reduce the county’s revenue by $527,000.
Jarboe said he would like to see the county’s income tax of 3 percent start bringing in more dollars than the property tax. Morris said he would like to lower the rate, because it’s likely the gasoline tax will be increased in Maryland. “I think it’s a humane thing to do and I support it,” he said.
However, the other three commissioners said they wanted to wait before adjusting tax rates because the actual outcome of federal budget cuts associated with sequestration are not fully known. “The best approach is to be cautious,” said Commissioner Cindy Jones (R). “We don’t have enough information right now to know what we’re dealing with.”
Jones moved to keep the county’s building plans as is, leaving out a $35 million county jail expansion, which was recommended to be put back in by the planning commission last week. Morris and Commission President Russell agreed to keep it out.
“I still think the state has money to pay for a piece of it,” Morgan said. Jarboe said he now supports the sheriff’s office and the need for a larger jail. However, Russell noted that Jarboe voted with Morris and Jones in December to call the new jail construction off.
“Everybody at this board had ample opportunity to move this project forward,” Russell said. “I think we need a new process, a new plan, a new project and new faces to look at this.” Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) has said a new board of commissioners would have to look at a future jail expansion.
A $9.5 million repair and replacement project will move ahead instead to fix the locks, add more security cameras and bring central air conditioning to the jail.
A number of nonprofit agencies that are not part of county government recently formed a coalition called the Vital Community Connectors. In a petition with dozens of signatures, the group asked that those agencies be funded at levels in the current fiscal 2013 budget, totaling $1.3 million.
A 3-2 vote decided to keep that $1.3 million in current funding intact, but with no increase, for those groups already in the current budget. However, those who receive county government dollars also have to utilize a nonprofit institute at the College of Southern Maryland. Jones and Jarboe did not agree with the flat funding. Jarboe said he wanted to make sure each funded entity was audited. He noted there are thousands of nonprofit groups in Maryland.
“How can two dozen in St. Mary’s rise to the top?” for local funding, he asked. “It’s more of a political process.”
The commissioners early this week floated a working number of 5 percent increases in the budgets of the board of education, the sheriff’s office and the public library system. But on Tuesday afternoon, three of the commissioners — Morgan, Morris and Jones — agreed to just a 3 percent funding increase instead of 5 percent.
The public schools got $85.7 million in county dollars this year, including retiree benefit and teacher pension costs. The sheriff’s budget is $30.4 million excluding grants and the library’s budget is $2.4 million.