By now we all know that Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt has proposed a $0.05 per hundred increase in the county’s real property tax rate. This would also filter down as increases for businesses that pay the personal property tax (including a tax on inventory). Before Pollitt’s proposed rate increase can take effect, one of two things must happen:
- The Wicomico County Council must approve a budget which includes all or part of the rate increase.
- The Council could do what they did last year … punt and refuse to pass a budget. This would mean that Pollitt’s proposed budget becomes law.
Option #2 really isn’t an option. If the council chose to punt this year, the entire responsibility for this rate increase should fall squarely on their shoulders. We elected our council members to lead, and to legislate; not hide under a bushel. That leaves option #1 – approving a budget that may include a higher real property rate.
It is unlikely that council will identify sufficient cuts to eradicate Pollitt’s entire rate increase. Pollitt’s budget bill is not a line item budget. Despite the fact that Wicomico County has adopted the same accounting system – MUNIS – that is used by the city of Salisbury, Wicomico council members do not receive the same level of detail that is available to Salisbury council members. This leaves council in the unenviable position of not having adequate information to propose enough specific cuts to keep rates at their current level.
One position that has been mentioned time and again as possibly unnecessary is that of Public Information Officer. Under Pollitt’s budget bill, council can cut dollars from the office of the County Executive but has limited say as to where Pollitt actually applies those cuts. Ditto in the case of building inspectors. The county currently employs three (3), but there is little to no current construction in Wicomico County. Do we really need three?
In addition to possibly unnecessary positions, it is difficult for council members to identify wasteful spending because of the lack of detailed information they receive. In addition, many of us forget that council members are PART TIME citizen legislators. They simply can’t have 10 hour budget meetings every day in the month of May.
What can citizens do? First, you can attend the council’s budget hearing on May 3rd. The meeting will be in the Midway Room of the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center and begins at 6:30 PM. If you want to see cuts in the county’s budget, recommend SPECIFIC cuts. It’s easy to say that there is tons of money wasted at the Board of Education or in Pollitt’s office. We need to tell council WHERE we should make those cuts. Sadly, it is even more difficult for citizens to propose specific cuts due to the lack of detail from the county and the Board of Ed. The second thing that you can do is to encourage your council members in cutting the budget. Every program has a constituency. There are always people asking that more money be spent on this program or that one (or that a program be spared from cuts). The third thing that citizens can do is ask council to DEMAND more detail from Pollitt’s office. That may mean purchasing more software. It just may mean a little more work in the Finance Department. Regardless, we owe it to ourselves to have our council members (and us) receive adequate information.
Do you want to pay a higher tax rate? If not, it’s time to pitch and offer specific and constructive ways to cut the county budget.