- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A split vote Tuesday finalized the $220.5 million budget for St. Mary’s County government to begin on July 1. The local allocation to the board of education remained at $93.9 million as previously planned, an increase of $4 million from the year before.
With that firm dollar amount, the school board is expected to finalize its budget plans for next year to cover what are now expected to be health care costs higher than originally planned, and is scheduled to meet with the commissioners on May 27 for their approval.
The school board is also rearranging the current year’s budget to cover an approximately $6 million deficit, again mostly stemming from higher health care costs than budgeted.
The local tax rates in St. Mary’s will not change in the new county budget, though residents of the 7th District will pay slightly more in the fire tax portion in property tax bills. The hike from 4.4 cents to 5.6 cents per $100 of assessed value should generate an additional $78,000 for the 7th District Volunteer Fire Department, said Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer for county government. The department made the request and there was no public opposition during hearings.
The county’s construction budget for fiscal 2015 is $60.9 million, which includes $12.3 million for the construction of Capt. Walter Francis Duke Elementary School in Leonardtown, $8 million to renovate Spring Ridge Middle School in Lexington Park, $11.3 million to accelerate new tower construction for the emergency responders radio system, $6 million to start construction on FDR Boulevard in California and $4 million to renovate the county jail.
The county will use $6.3 million of the $23.5 million fund balance for one-time expenses in the upcoming year, and another $10.4 million in the next fiscal year, leaving $6.8 million in surplus dollars.
The commissioners also carry over a $7.5 million fund in the capital budget to deal with any impacts at Patuxent River Naval Air Station from military base realignment and closure.
Commissioners Larry Jarboe (R) and Dan Morris (R) voted against the overall budget because it did not include tax relief, and included some items they did not wish to fund.
Morris said the energy tax of 1.25 percent was not reduced and the senior property tax cap was not reduced from those age 70 down to those age 65. “We had asked for a senior tax cap which is in no way a reduction; it is a cap,” Morris said. “We give praise to our seniors but we don’t help them.” The current program freezes property tax bills for those 70 and older living in their own home.
For those who don’t make a lot of money, “we’re going to tax them for using electricity,” Morris said of the energy tax, which is budgeted to bring in $1.2 million.
Jarboe noted that FDR Boulevard remains in the budget. He tried last week to have $18 million of the $24.7 million project pulled to free up dollars to help the board of education with its budget shortfalls, which Morris also supported.
Commission President Jack Russell (D), Commissioners Cindy Jones (R) and Todd Morgan (R) voted to leave the road project as is and voted for the entire budget Tuesday.
Morris also pointed to funding new jobs in the next county budget as “not essential.” The new budget includes four more 911 dispatchers and eight new jobs in the sheriff’s office. “When I see what’s in this budget along the lines of wasting money, I can’t support that,” he said.
Morgan said this budget was made during “the best of times and the worst of times. I think the county will appreciate it in the long run.”
“Watch the pennies and the dollars will watch themselves. I don’t think we’re watching the pennies,” Morris said.
Jarboe said this was his last budget vote as a county commissioner as he is on his third consecutive term, the limit allowed by county law. He also served a term from 1994 to 1998. Of those 16 budgets, he said he was “nine for, seven against.” The budget for fiscal 2015 was the seventh county budget in a row he voted against.
The commissioners are also scheduled to vote on the construction budget of the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission on May 27, which will determine the new monthly bills for its customers after July 1.