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The St. Mary’s County commissioners agreed Tuesday to give the public schools a 4 percent budget hike next year, instead of the 3 percent the majority of them decided on last week.

All five county commissioners voted to take a $212.1 million recommended operating budget to public hearing next month. After that the budget will be finalized by the end of May.

The $83.8 million in local funding to the public school system is intended to be enough to pay for negotiated raises for teachers, support staff and administrators, which aren’t finalized yet.

St. Mary’s County government regular and regular part-time employees are set to receive two step/merit increases based on years served. Employees at the top of their grade will get a one-time $800 stipend. Hourly employees who don’t get benefits will get a 2 percent increase in the hourly rate. There are around 695 people on St. Mary’s County government’s payroll.

The county’s general tax rates are not slated to change at this point. The St. Mary’s County income tax remains at 3 percent and the local residential property tax is 85.7 cents per $100 of assessed value in the recommended budget.

However, there are two tax increases proposed to support local volunteer rescue squads. The Hollywood Rescue Squad’s first-due area’s property tax would increase from 1.1 cents to 1.4 cents. In Ridge’s first-due area, the rescue tax would increase from 0.8 cents to 1.1 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The county commissioners were keeping back just less than $3 million of unassigned dollars until after the public hearing. That amount was changed Tuesday to $500,000 instead. The rest of the money was moved to pay down building projects to reduce the amount the county will borrow or will go to retiree health benefit costs.

The $212.1 million county budget is 0.2 percent higher than the current year. It includes $208.5 million in new revenue, a 3.7 percent increase from the current operating budget.

Though all five of the county commissioners agreed to fund the public schools 4 percent more in local dollars, just how exactly that money will be spent was still debated.

Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said there should be no new hires in the school system and no new employee reclassifications. “I’m giving them 4 percent. They’ve got a union to deal with. I think 4 percent is a fair number,” he said. Morgan supported a 3 percent increase last week, along with Commissioners Cindy Jones (R) and Dan Morris (R).

Morris said Tuesday he wanted to see school security officers in elementary schools. Those new jobs are different than the sheriff’s deputies in public high and middle schools. “Four [percent] works for me. As far as the unions go, no comment,” he said. “I think that school security should be part of the school system. It’s their ballgame, let them run it,” he said.

“Will 4 percent allow them to fund negotiated agreements? That’s the challenge,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R).

“My No. 1 priority is compensation,” said Michael Martirano, superintendent of St. Mary’s public schools. It would take some detailed calculations to make the sure the county funding would support the negotiated agreements, he said. “The 4 percent increase allows us to accomplish our original goal more than 3 percent.”

“I think 4 percent is something I can support,” Jones said.

In addition to the $83.8 million in county funds, the commissioners are also funding almost $3 million for school system retiree health costs and $3.15 million for teacher pension costs.

Russell said, “A lot of us are not satisfied with this but we have to move on in the process.” A public hearing will be held on April 30 at Chopticon High School and the budget will be finalized by the end of May and starts July 1.

“I’m essentially not happy, but I’m happy,” Russell said.

“I’m not overjoyed with it, but we can live with it,” Jones said.

“Things could be better, but I can live with it,” Morris said.

jbabcock@somdnews.com