FY25 Worcester budget maintains tax rate, increases education funding by $5.38 million

On June 4, 2024, the Worcester County Commissioners approved the Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) Operating Budget of $261,917,617.

“This is a fiscally conservative budget that allocates funding to cover vital public services and needed capital projects without burdening property owners and taxpayers,” Worcester County Commissioner President Chip Bertino said. “I want to thank our staff, agencies, and department heads on their partnership to ensure that taxpayer money is allocated judiciously.”

The FY25 budget maintains the real property tax rate of 84.5¢ per $100 of assessed value and the County’s local income tax rate of 2.25%. Worcester County residents will continue to benefit from the lowest income tax rate and the third lowest real property tax rate as compared to all other counties in Maryland. This fiscally conservative budget includes increased funding for services that residents value most, to include education, public safety, and infrastructure.

The approved budget includes $14.6 million in increased property tax revenues. Income tax revenue increased by $7 million. Revenue from other local taxes increased by $3.3 million, including a $1.7 million increase in the recordation tax and a $1.5 million increase in transfer tax. It also allows a salary step plus 4% cost-of-living adjustment for county staff.

The approved budget includes record funding for the Worcester County Board of Education at $105.4 million, an increase of $5.4 million over the current fiscal year. The funding is expected to allow for a salary step plus a 4% cost-of-living adjustment and to cover rising health insurance and salary related increases, including pension, FICA, and Other Post Employment Benefits. In addition, the commissioners allocated $3.5 million in rate stabilization funds to reduce health insurance rates from 12.65% to 4.3% for County and BOE employees and to meet the required minimum in the rate stabilization fund.

The coming year’s spending plan also includes a modest $95,807 increase in the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office budget. This budget includes money for continuing education, certifications, and capital equipment to replace outdated vehicles.

“This budget is like an insurance policy for the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office as a whole,” Sheriff Matthew Crisafulli said. “It ensures that our sworn deputies and support staff have access to the professional development and training they need in specialized areas to keep pace with the fast-moving changes in law enforcement and provide a proactive presence that helps provide an outstanding quality of life for residents and visitors.”

FY25 funding also includes $2.67 million in grants to county fire companies and $8.7 million in ambulance grants, which represents an increase of $1.5 million and includes supplemental funding for 10 EMS companies to assist with run and personnel costs.

Grants to towns increased by $200,253, including unrestricted grant increases of $35,000 each to the Towns of Berlin and Pocomoke, a recreation grant increase of $20,000 to the Ocean Pines Association, and increases to the Town of Ocean City of $76,037 in unrestricted grant funds and $32,500 or 50% of the cost of the OC Bomb Squad digital x-ray system.

This budget includes an increase of $5.6 million to the Health Department to comply with the 100% increase in the State Mandated Core Funding Match. It also eliminates the Benefits account and realigns insurance and benefits costs within each county department and agency to remain consistent with the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report. 

The approved budget includes an increase of $2.7 million to maintain a 15% Reserve Fund. The State mandated Reserve Fund is a tool that is vital to the County’s emergency preparedness plans and plays a key role in the County’s fiscal health and stable bond rating of AA for Fitch, AA+ for Standard and Poor’s and Aa2 for Moody’s Investor Services. This outstanding bond rating enables Worcester County Government to borrow money at low interest rates that save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars for capital projects, like the upcoming Buckingham Elementary School replacement project.

There are also dozens of public, emergency, and education projects currently being funded with assigned reserve funds. These include but are not limited to $4.2 million to construct a new Pocomoke Branch Library, $2.2 million to replace the roof at Snow Hill Middle School and Cedar Chapel Special School, and $2 million to upgrade the radio system utilized by Worcester County Emergency Services and the 10 volunteer fire companies.

The FY25 budget increased by $26 million or 11% more than the FY24 budget, and budget decisions were based upon current and projected trends. In early 2024, County departments and agencies requests for FY25 totaled $270 million. During budget deliberations, the commissioners made cuts of $8.2 million across all divisions of government to adopt a balanced FY25 budget.