- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A split vote by the St. Mary’s County commissioners Tuesday takes a new $220 million budget to public hearing next month.
The recommended fiscal 2015 county budget proposes no hike in income or property tax rates, but does include a small increase in the 7th District’s fire tax to support its fire department there. The county government’s current operating budget is $222.6 million.
The hearing is scheduled for April 15.
St. Mary’s County government employees are budgeted a step salary increase after July 1 when the new budget begins. The public school system gets $4 million more in local funding for a total of $93.9 million. The sheriff’s budget receives $1 million more for a total of $35.3 million, plus some replacement vehicles. FDR Boulevard has $6 million in construction funds and the county’s emergency radio communications system is on the fast track to completion with $11.3 million.
The new budget uses $5.8 million in surplus funds and plans on using another $9.7 million in the following year’s budget, leaving $8 million in fund balance.
The recommended operating budget also carries $802,552 in unappropriated funds to the public hearing. Its use will be decided after the April 15 public hearing when the commissioners finalize the budget in May.
The property tax rate remains at 85.7 cents per $100 of assessed value. The commissioners could have reduced the rate to 85.32 cents to bring in the same amount of revenues, using the state’s constant yield formula.
The county’s income tax rate remains at 3 percent of taxable income.
Total revenues to the county’s budget are anticipated at $214.2 million, an increase of $5 million, or 2.4 percent. Property taxes are budgeted to come in at $103.3 million, an increase of 1.6 percent, while income taxes are expected to generate $85.2 million, an increase of 3.9 percent.
Some new employees were approved in St. Mary’s County government and in the school system, though it’s up to the board of education on how to allocate the available funding to its original request of 25 new full-time employees.
Four new dispatchers were approved for the county’s 911 center. The sheriff’s budget includes a new patrol deputy, an administrative coordinator for patrol, two criminal investigation detectives, an accreditation officer and a civilian public information officer to free up the deputy now on that job.
The fire tax in the 7th District would increase from 4.4 cents to 5.6 cents on $100 of assessed value, affecting 4,291 properties in the first-due area of the fire department.
Commissioners Dan Morris (R) and Larry Jarboe (R) voted against the recommended budget. Before Tuesday’s vote, Jarboe had not supported a final county budget for the last six years.
Morris said he had issues with new jobs included in the budget. “I was adamantly opposed to hiring a bunch of new folks,” though in some cases there was no choice.
“But I will not support [jobs] that will not be used to service the county in general or make the drug situation a little better,” he said. “I do not feel like hamstringing the next board of commissioners with positions we do not really need.”
Jarboe said he was still interested in expanding the cap on local property taxes for older residents, lowering the age from 70 to 65, and reducing the county’s energy tax on electricity and home heating fuels.
“People have suffered with the cost of energy. The cold weather’s been very tough on people,” he said.
“I’m satisfied with where we are today,” Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said. “There’s still a lot of public input that needs to be gathered.”
“Now it’s time to listen to what the citizens say on what we have proposed,” Commissioner Cindy Jones (R) said.
“We’ve got a healthy public hearing reserve to deal with,” Commission President Jack Russell (D) said in finalizing the budget.