New budget addresses education, public safety, increased costs of elections, and retention of quality employees
On May 30, 2006, the Board of Commissioners for St. Mary's County unanimously approved the budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, effective July 1, 2006.
For the third year in a row, the Board of County Commissioners has announced that the tax rates have been reduced. The property tax rate has been reduced from $.872 to $.857. The energy tax has been cut in half, reducing the rate from 5% to 2-1/2%. These rate reductions translate to a $2.4 million tax relief package for St. Mary's taxpayers.
Recurring revenues are budgeted at $160,881,169, an 8.5% increase over the FY2006 level. The total operating budget is $180,569,812, of which $19,688,643 is the application of fund balance to capital projects and other non-recurring costs, such as technology investment and one-time elections costs. Use of the fund balance in lieu of general obligation bonds for approximately $14.3 million in capital projects reduces the debt service burden on future budgets by approximately $1.1million annually, over the 20 year term of the bonds. Currently at 8.6%, the County's debt service to expenses ratio is expected to be reduced to 7.7% in FY2007 and is projected to continue to decline to 6.35% in FY2012, based on the current capital plan.
"We believe this budget reflects the priorities of this community and expectations that you have shared with us throughout this budget process and allocates our resources accordingly," stated Thomas F. McKay, President, St. Mary's County Board of Commissioners.
The majority of the increased revenues are allocated to the following primary budget areas: Education, Public Safety, and Public Works and Transportation. In the FY2007 budget, the Board of County Commissioners has targeted the following key issues:
* Fully funding the Board of Education's request for a total of $67.8 million, which will maintain competitive compensation, add 42 employees (18.5 regular education teachers and four special education teachers); meet class size goals, complete the all-day kindergarten implementation, and further initiatives for technology and high school assessment/remediation.
* Increasing the Sheriff's budget by $2.3 million (to $23.2 million), which provides competitive compensation, adds 13.5 positions, including five new deputies, and continues the vehicle replacement program (24 vehicles will be replaced in FY2007).
* Increasing the Department of Public Safety's budget by $1.8 million, with increased grant and local funding, to improve the 911/pager system and other disaster preparedness initiatives.
* Increasing the Department of Public Works & Transportation's budget by $1.9 million, to address increased costs for operating solid waste activities, increasing utility costs associated with County buildings, and vehicle replacement (11 vehicles will be replaced in FY2007).
The FY2007 budget also addresses the increased cost of elections, which will require just over $1 million-almost three times the FY-2006 level of expenses. County funding for the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) increased 13% for a total of $2.5 million, and the St. Mary's County Libraries funding level increased 11% for a total of $2 million. Eight non-profit entities will receive funding increases totaling almost $277,000, with the total contributions by the County for non-profits reaching almost $1.5 million, an increase of 17% over the FY2006 level.
County government officials noted that, "attracting and retaining good employees is critical to our success in delivering high quality and cost effective services to our community." Towards that end, the FY2007 budget includes $355,000, which is the employer share of the costs to participate in the State's enhanced pension system, as well as funds to provide a 4% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to County employees. Officials further noted that, "additional staff (9.5 FTE employees) will be added to various departments as part of our ongoing efforts to respond to and improve upon services to our citizens."
In addition to operational funding, the capital budget, totaling $39.1 million, fully funds the Board of Education's capital request for FY-2007 through FY-2012 to include the Leonardtown Elementary School renovation project. The FY-2007 capital plan also includes three projects related to the detention center, totaling $25 million; increased funding for road and transportation projects, including Pegg Road and FDR Boulevard; investment in the Leonardtown Wharf; $4 million for land preservation programs, $4.6 million to construct a sold waste transfer station, and $6.7 million for parks and recreation projects, including the Three Notch Trail.
The approved FY2007 budget book is being prepared by the County's Finance Department and will be posted on the County website, http://www.co.saint-marys.md.us/, when completed. It will also be made available in all County libraries and upon request through the Public Information Office. Summaries of the approved budget are currently posted on the County's web site at http://www.co.saint-marys.md.us/finance/documents/5-30-06%20Approved%20Budget.pdf .