St. Mary's Budget Gap Still Wide

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St. Mary's Budget Gap Still Wide

Leonardtown, MD - 3/13/2013

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By Dick Myers

Chief Financial Officer Elaine Kramer (l) and Acting County Administrator Sue Sabo at a joint school board/commissioner meeting in January
Chief Financial Officer Elaine Kramer (l) and Acting County Administrator Sue Sabo at a joint school board/commissioner meeting in January

With two weeks left before the St. Mary’s County Commissioners approve a recommended budget for next year, there still is a fairly wide gap between projected revenues and budget requests. At the end of a budget work session Tuesday, Deputy Finance Director Jeanette Cudmore, said the gap was $2.8 million.

That figure, however, does not include two variables that could make the difference larger. The expense estimates do not include any salary increases for county staff. That decision is expected next week. Acting County Administrator Sue Sabo says every one percent Coast of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase equates to $500,000. And she said merit increases require $540,000.

The other gorilla in the room is the Sequester. When asked to come up with a figure on the impact of the sequester, Chief Finance Officer Elaine Kramer said she had a figure but it wouldn’t be fair to even characterize it as an estimate, because there were so many variables, particularly the length of time the sequester will last.

Kramer presented that “sequester version” which put income tax revenues from 2013 at a flat line instead of the estimated five percent increase now in the budget. The impact of sequester cuts this year probably won’t be felt until the next fiscal year because there is always a delay between the state collecting the taxes and distributing them to the counties.

Even though she presented that alternative scenario, Kramer recommended that the county continue to keep the income tax estimates at a five percent growth rate. She said she was confident that the county could absorb lower income tax revenues with its undesignated fund balance (aka surplus).

At Tuesday afternoon’s work session Commissioner Todd Morgan (R: 4th) asked that $350,000 be added to the budget of the Department of Economic and Community development to develop a plan to diversify the county from its dependence on the federal defense budget.

The commissioners have held a number of budget work sessions since the beginning of the year, but have made few decisions so far. They did remove the county jail from the capital budget and put in a renovation, and they did add a Lexington Park substation for the sheriff.

Since the school board and sheriff’s budgets are the biggest slices of the budget pie, they are always the biggest targets. The school board is asking for an 8.4 percent increase from the county and the sheriff a 10.7 percent increase.

The budget approved in two weeks will then go to a public hearing on April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Chopticon High School in Morganza. The commissioners then have until the end of May to finalize the budget and set the tax rate for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

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