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County Budget Briefs 04/17/2015

(April 17, 2015) The Worcester County Commissioners heard the following arguments and listened to budget presentations during a work session held on Tuesday.

Sheriff’s office budget

Worcester County Sheriff Reggie Mason increased his budget request by about $500,000 to pay for vehicle replacement, additional personnel, information technology and equipment.

Also included was an impassioned plea from former state delegate Mike McDermott for the county to adopt a central booking protocol.

McDermott laid out the cumbersome arrest process for deputies, especially during off hours or over a weekend, and the resulting loss of “field assets” as the deputy accompanies the accused in each step of the process from arrest to eventual release or incarceration.

Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw commented that the central booking concept was something the county had discussed previously, and the time had come to “quit talking about it.”

McDermott said Ocean City uses central booking with great success, as well as neighboring jurisdictions.

Tourism Department

When the county took over ownership of the Route 13 Welcome Center from the state years ago, it was known to be both an important boon for travelers, beyond access to rest rooms, and also kind of a money pit.

Director Lisa Challenger said the building is adversely affected by the volume of truck traffic using the Route 13 corridor as an alternate to Interstate 95, and the vibrations affect everything from water mains to the foundation.

The HVAC system dates from the 1980s, but is still functioning after extensive repairs but is described as being in poor condition. There was concern over the electric bill and lighting systems, but it was later determined that the county would probably not see any return on an upgrade for years to come.

The tourism department’s budget, on paper, shrank by 16 percent, but most of those savings come from the transfer of nonprofit funds like Furnace Town, the Delmarva Discovery Center and the Snow Hill Opera House to the Recreation and Culture heading.

In essence, the tourism budget for 2016 remains flat.

Environmental services

Director Bob Mitchell lamented his lack of time for planning and preparation owing to a lack of supervisory employees in his 17-member department.

By contrast, the Economic Development department has a staff of three: a director, a deputy director and an assistant.

“I need help,” Mitchell said.

Despite his perceived need, Mitchell did not request an additional position for his department. His budget request increased only 1.8 percent over last year, with the increase attributed to replacing computers the county IT department identified as obsolete.

Oglesby may lose funds

State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby revealed that funds from diversion programs, usually gathered from marijuana offenses, had once funded his department except for salaries.

With these offenses moving to a civil matter, he warned the county that his department might see a loss in revenue in the coming years.

Wanted: a new car

Director Bill Badger doesn’t think using his 2005 Dodge county car is doing much to impress prospective investors when he takes them out to show them the sights.

He asked the county to provide him with a newer, nicer car to woo potential businesses. The old car, Badger said, would be passed to Deputy Director Merry Mears, who also logs a significant amount of miles on county business using her own vehicle.

Public Works equipment

Kicking the can down the road is coming back to bite the county in terms of aging equipment and costly, time-consuming repairs.

The county’s dump truck, also used as its snowplow, can’t take to the road at the moment because of its condition. Its model year is 2002, according to the county, and had logged several hundreds of thousands of miles.

The public works division encompasses several divisions, and these costs are spread among them. The roads division, of which the dump truck is a part, doubled its 2015 budget request to almost $4 million to include road paving, bridge replacements, vehicles and heavy equipment.

The maintenance division increased its request by 20 percent to a bit more than $1 million for equipment and personnel. Conversely, the boat landing division cut its budget by 60 percent to almost $48,000.

All of the other public works divisions kept their budgets within a few percentage points of last year’s request.

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