(March 13, 2015) Strapped for cash and with dwindling reserves, Worcester County government is now operating under a hiring freeze until the county commissioners can work their way through what appears to be a daunting budget process.
The decision to put all hiring on hold until after the budget is set later this spring was made in a closed-door session and announced midweek. No public vote on the matter has been taken.
County officials said in a new release issued by Public Information Officer Kim Moses that the reason for the freeze is “another challenging budget year due to a continued decline in projected property tax revenues.”
The release also quoted Commissioner President Jim Bunting, who said, “County revenues are anticipated to dip from $178 million in the current fiscal year to $167 million in fiscal 2016 unless significant budget stabilization funds are utilized.
“The county has lost over $40 million in property tax revenues since fiscal year 2009 due to declining assessments, and property tax revenues are projected to decline by another $4 million in fiscal 2016.”
Moses added later that the commissioners’ aim is to avoid using all its reserves to balance the upcoming budget. As earlier reported in Ocean City Today, the combination of declining revenues and rising expenses has left the county with enough in its rainy day fund to cover the difference for about two years.
The freeze will remain in effect “until the budget is reviewed and adopted,” Bunting said, “After that, we’ll take a step back and look at everything. We will be making retirement offers dependent on the number of years of service and age.”
Some 61 county employees are eligible to retire, according to the county, and Moses said she expects between 12-15 employees to avail themselves of the option. Affected employees have until April 30 to make a decision.
Moses said the county has two positions currently subject to the freeze, a landfill attendant earning about $27,000 annually, and a recycle worker II at a bit more than $25,000 per year.
Instead of hiring a full-time building inspector at $37,000 a year, the county decided to make the job part-time on a contractual basis.
The county did not provide actual savings estimates for this move, but Moses said the freeze would “provide the Commissioners with maximum flexibility for balancing the fiscal 2016 budget.”
The hiring stall affects no one currently in the hiring process, Moses said.
The last time the county instituted a hiring freeze was in 2008, Moses said, and furloughs as well as a previous freeze was instituted in the early 1990s.
County Attorney J. Sonny Bloxom said the vote was taken in closed session because it dealt with “administrative matters.”