Providing staff that could prove cost-effective in the long-run and keeping the county’s current and next operating budgets at fiscally conservative levels was the issue the Calvert commissioners tried to tackle during their Tuesday meeting.
After a lengthy followup to a previous work session, the board and county finance leaders had crafted a $3.3 million addition to the current $318.5 million budget going forward. The additional budget expenditure will necessitate a public hearing, which would likely be held in February.
“You know how I am about red spending,” said Commissioners’ President Earl “Buddy” Hance (R) as the requests for more positions and expanded pay hours found approval. “It sounds like we’re red spending in 2021,” he said, referring to deficit spending.
Tim Hayden, finance and budget director, reminded the commissioners that the changes will significantly impact the fiscal 2022 budget, which currently is projected to be balanced and contains a property tax rate decrease.
Amy Lawson, who was hired as technology services director last year, told the commissioners her department needs six new positions. At the top of the list is a cybersecurity specialist.
“We need to have our ducks in a row,” said Lawson, adding that cybersecurity is always in peril. While the department does have a staff member who could fill the role, that individual has other responsibilities.
Lawson had an ally in Commissioner Thomas “Tim” Hutchins (R), who cited the devastating cyber attack on Baltimore city as an example of what could go awry if Calvert’s network was breeched. In the spring of 2019, Baltimore was victimized by a ransomware attack that cost $6 million to recover from.
“The cost if we got hit would be millions of dollars in ransom,” Hutchins said. “We need to get as much cyber protection in place ASAP.”
The commissioners gave approval to two tech service positions at 40 hours a week, as well as moved all other IT positions from 35 to 40 hours per week, for a total annual cost of $850,000.
Sheriff Mike Evans (R) again urged the commissioners to approve his requests for moving his public information officer to a full-time position and hiring a budget analyst for the sheriff’s office. The board approved the PIO request.
The discussion of the budget analyst position ended with a unanimous vote to explore the possibility of creating a funding formula for the sheriff’s office, similar to the one that has been used to fund public schools.
Adding 16 paid personnel to emergency medical services at a cost of $2 million is likely to be the topic of discussion for an upcoming work session.
“We are going to have to have a plan and it’s not going to be popular because it’s going to cost money,” said Commissioner Mike Hart (R), adding that public safety was a higher priority than fiscal prudence. “I think we have no choice.”
The board agreed to budget 40 hour work weeks for public works project inspectors.
The parks and recreation department’s recommendation to hire three new employees ahead of the pending opening of Ward Farm Park in Dunkirk was unanimously approved for a total of $193,816. The new positions are a park manager and two maintenance workers.
“I know it’s needed,” said Hart.
The additional funding of the approved positions wouldn’t start until April. The fiscal impact for the remainder of this fiscal year would be $823,663, according to Hayden.
During the ongoing fiscal 2022 budget process, which has the budget at a 2% increase — or $324.8 million — as of the last work session, the commissioners will also need to make decisions on 22 other position requests.