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Public comment on Wor. tax hikes, Tuesday

(May 1, 2015) With budget requests from county departments and municipalities heard to the tune of $189.8 million balanced against $167.4 in revenue, the time has come to see what the public thinks about Worcester County government’s budgetary situation for the coming fiscal year.

The Worcester County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget proposal on Tuesday, May 5 at 7 p.m. at Snow Hill Middle School.

The county has advertised a proposed tax rate increase of 15.7 cents to cover the approximately $22 million shortfall, but have expressed the desire to reduce that rate and keep fiscal 2016’s budget in line with the current year’s spending total of $178 million.

Several sources of funding available to the county commissioners are not included in the revenue numbers, including stabilization funds, corporate tax and railroad tax. State law mandates these sources not be included when publishing an announcement for a property tax increase. The notice is required whenever a county contemplates a tax increase above the constant yield rate, according to Kathy Whited, the county’s budget officer.

Worcester County’s constant yield rate for fiscal 2016 has been determined by the state to be 77.55 cents per $100 of assessed value, County Treasurer Phil Thompson said, and is derived from property assessments.

Worcester County is set on a three-year cycle of assessments and officials had expected values to creep upward beginning this year, calling it the “bottom of the trough.” That didn’t quite happen.

Ocean City, which accounts for more than half the property value in the county, was reassessed for fiscal 2016. While property values did not decrease, neither did they substantially increase, leaving a shortfall in expected revenue. These shortfalls are not expected to increase dramatically in the intervening years between now and 2019 when Ocean City is reassessed.

The commissioners have been grappling with this revenue reduction ever since. The county had been socking away money in a “budget stabilization fund,” which expected have between $9-10 million available for fiscal 2016. Stabilization funds are the last to be spent, bridging the gap between the fiscal years on a course that had already been decided by the previous board of county commissioners. Four of the seven sitting commissioners were elected in November 2014.

County Public Information Officer Kim Moses said the hearing will begin with a PowerPoint presentation delivered by County Administrator Harold Higgins. Following that, county department will be named and comments will be solicited. The Board of Education will be the final department to be announced, “as this draws by far the largest amount of public speakers,” Moses said.

Dr. Jerry Wilson, superintendent of schools, will first give a presentation on his budget request to outline the department’s needs before comments can be heard, Moses said.

She also advised that it is not uncommon for the meeting to last until 11 p.m.


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