What a difference a year makes. Last year’s St. Mary’s County budget hearing featured vitriolic testimony in support of more education and public safety funding. Lines stretched outside Great Mills High School and the auditorium was packed.
This year St. Mary’s County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano, with school board members and staff standing behind him, praised the county commissioners for their tentative funding decisions. And Sheriff Tim Cameron did the same. The auditorium was half empty.
But the three-hours hearing was not without controversy. The majority of the three dozen speakers urged the commissioners to restore cuts to the so called non-county agencies, mostly non-profits that provide services to the community. More than $100,000 was cut from their requests, which total almost $1.6 million.
Some speakers noted that the cuts represented a mere drop in the bucket of what has become an ocean of a more-than $200 million budget. The cuts to each agency were largely small, and in some cases matched what was funded last year. But the cuts, the speakers said, drove a stake into the very heart of their ability to provide services to the community.
During the budget work session in which the cuts were made, Commissioner Cynthia Jones (R: 1st) noted, “We need to focus on core service.” That point was reiterated during the hearing’s opening briefing from Chief Financial Officer Elaine Kramer.
Jones during a discussion of cutting the funding request for United Communities for Afro-American Contributions (UCAC), which is the organizer of the annual Juneteenth celebration in Lexington Park, said, “The taxpayers are not seeing any benefit from this investment.”
One of the hearing’s last speakers put the issue in perspective. Julie Randall, former county commissioner president and current member of the county’s Human Services Council, said, “Core services are provided by the non-county agencies.” She added, “We need to prioritize the needs of all of our citizens.”
Randall noted that funding for non-county agencies represented less than one penny per capita and that funding is at 2001 levels, when she was in office. “Commit to human service needs and prioritize them as you would do for other needs,” she insisted.
The biggest full-court presses of the evening came from supporters of UCAC and Leah’s House. The UCAC supporters.lined up behind board member Michael Brown and then President Nathaniel Scroggins to urge restoration of the funding cut by the commissioners (one thousand of their $5 thousand request).