Towns present budget requests to county

(March 6, 2015) As is routine procedure this time of year, the Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday heard the annual budget requests from the county’s municipalities and its one major community association.

Every year, the county doles out some of its revenues to the towns and Ocean Pines to help pay for special projects, matters of public safety, economic development, recreation and infrastructure improvements. This year’s appeals more or less followed that pattern.

Provided to the towns from the State Department of Assessments and Taxation were the constant yield tax rates the towns were working with in order to help them define their plans. The constant yield rate is the tax rate a jurisdiction would have to impose in order to generate the same amount of property tax revenue in fiscal 2016 as it did in fiscal 2015. Most community and the county itself saw an uptick in the constant yield rates because of a tax base that has declined slightly.

According to the report, if a jurisdiction wishes to levy a tax in excess of the constant yield rate and to earn more than $25,000, it would need to advertise and hold a public hearing on the increase.

Worcester County’s constant yield rate will jump from $.77 to $.775 per $100, Berlin’s will increase from $.68 to $.681, Ocean City’s from $.4704 to $.478, Pocomoke City owner-occupied will go from $.9285 to $.937 and non-owner-occupied from $1.1203 to $1.131. Snow Hill will decrease from $.86 to $.857. These figures do not include additional tax levies for special purposes, as noted on the report.

The requests to the county were:

Pocomoke City

The ambulance service is weighing heavily on Pocomoke City, Mayor Bruce Morrison said. The funding formula provides for only $.60 per mile, and while that may be adequate for towns such as Berlin, whose round trip is usually just to Atlantic General Hospital, Morrison contends his ambulances sometimes make 70- to 80-mile round trips.

County Administrator Harold Higgins said a new formula was in the works, but didn’t elaborate.

All told, Pocomoke City’s budget request increased from 2015 approved levels by about $27,000 from $1.443 million to $1.47 million. The lion’s share of the increase is due to the requested ambulance grant increasing from about $378,000 to almost $436,000.

Snow Hill

Mayor Charlie Dorman told the commissioners continued revitalization efforts while maintaining the same levels of service to residents were Snow Hill’s priorities in the upcoming budget cycle.

Because of county grants, Dorman said, Mason’s Opera House was stabilized and is expected to be open to the public during the next First Friday event on April 3. Dorman requested $100,000 to continue repairs on the building. He also requested $20,000 to be designated for economic development.

Snow Hill’s total request is almost $1.64 million, up from $1.52 approved last year. The bulk of the increase is the $50,000 sought in an unrestricted grant, the $20,000 asked for economic development and a large uptick in the ambulance grant, which includes a fee increase for all of the municipalities.

Berlin

The Town of Berlin is seeking less than it received last year, dropping from almost $1.78 million in 2015 to $1.76 million.

“We’ll use the funds for infrastructure upgrades. You’ve got to build the foundation before you remodel the house, “ Mayor W. Gee Williams said.

Like the other towns, Berlin’s ambulance grant is set to increase, but some of the savings is derived from a $75,000 decrease in funding requested for the Berlin Fire Company.

Ocean Pines

One of the more aggressive requests came from Ocean Pines. It asked for almost $1.6 million last year, but was approved for $1.16 million. This year, the Ocean Pines Association is reaching higher, asking for $1.73 million.

In fiscal 2015, it sought $95,000 in recreation grants, of which $10,000 was approved. The request increased to $150,000 this year. A roads grant of $250,000 was zeroed out last year, so the OPA is requesting $275,000 this year. Of the $600,000 requested for police aid in 2015, $460,000 was approved and $625,000 was requested this year.

Budget hearings for the communities will be scheduled later in the year.

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