In compliance with and pursuant to Section 6-308 of the Tax Property Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, the County Commissioners held a public hearing on Thursday, June 16, 2005 at 6:00 p.m. in the County Commissionersí Hearing Room, County Government Center, 400 High Street, Chestertown, Maryland, on the proposed Fiscal Year Budget beginning July 1, 2005 to increase property tax revenues by 5.4 % above the Constant Yield Tax Rate. The Constant Yield Tax Rate has been established by the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation at $0.941 per One Hundred Dollars of assessed valuation for Fiscal Year 2006.
The proposed tax rate intended to be levied by the County Commissioners of Kent County is $0.992 per One Hundred Dollars of real property subject to taxation for County Purposes and $2.48 per One Hundred Dollars of public utilities property subject to taxation for County purposes.
County Commissioners William W. Pickrum, Roy W. Crow, and Scott D. Livie were in attendance as well as Susanne Hayman, County Administrator, and Patricia Merritt, Director of Budget and Accounting, approximately thirty citizens, and members of the media.
Notice of the public hearing was read into the record by Ms. Hayman as well as the procedures for testifying.
Commissioner Pickrum welcomed those in attendance and stated that this is an annual process that generally takes place during a routine weekly meeting but because of a typographical error in the newspaper announcement, the meeting was delayed until this evening.
The fiscal year 2006 budget process has been marked by the continued decline of state funding and increased demands for local services. It has been immeasurably daunting to prioritize all the worthwhile requests, coupled with the limited resources while maintaining the countyís fiscal strength through strong reserves. This document has undergone the maximum of vetting by all parties concerned and the Commissioners are grateful for the exhaustive time and effort to finalize this budget. The Commissioners are grateful for the number of citizens who attended the hearing to express their support.
Hand-outs of the proposed budget were distributed and a power point demonstration was given.
Commissioner Crow began the proceedings by stating the Commissionersí goals for the year, which include, in this priority: Education, Public Safety, Quality of Life, Economic Development, Tourism Development, Social Services, Community Initiatives, Promoting Heritage, Senior Citizens, and Governance.
Education - To partner with the Board of Education to provide quality education to the children of Kent County. This yearís budget provides for competitive salaries for the teachers as well as Phase II of the KCHS renovation project.
Public Safety - To reduce the opportunity for crime and disorder, to address the root causes of crime through creative problem solving, and to provide security by protecting the life, property, and constitutional rights of all citizens in Kent County. The FY 2006 Budget includes five new public safety positions (one temporary deputy, one correctional officer, two dispatchers, one emergency planner), funding for the volunteer fire fightersí LOSAP annuity plan and continuation of the high school resource officer initiative.
Quality of Life - To enhance the quality of life for all Kent County citizens by providing responsive and effective services in the most cost effective manner possible. We remain committed to providing quality services at a fair cost to the taxpayers of Kent County.
Economic Development - To create innovative growth strategies and promote economic development that will maintain and complement the unique agricultural and waterfront character of Kent County. One of the primary economic development goals is to expand the tax base by increasing the number of quality jobs in the County. The FY 2006 Budget includes funding for the following initiatives: Chesapeake Fields Institute, Business Park at Worton, and the LaMotte Corporate Campus.
Tourism Development - To market and promote Kent County, encouraging visitors, tourism related businesses and leveraging visitor spending, while protecting the Countyís character, heritage, quality of life and unmatched natural and cultural resources. The economic impact of Tourism in Kent County is $27 million in dollars spent, $2 million in tax dollars to local governments, and three-hundred jobs. The FY 2006 Budget includes increased funding to enhance the marketing and promotion of the County, which in turn will positively impact our economy.
Social Services - To continue our commitment to Kentís disadvantaged citizens, the FY 2006 Budget reflects a commitment to the new Kent Center facility construction project and increased funding for emergency assistance provided by the Local Emergency Assistance Program to Kent residents in need.
Community Initiatives - To collaborate with other entities in Kent County to enhance and expand services for the citizens. The FY 2006 Budget includes funding for the following joint initiatives: the community center, high school stadium lights, evaluation of emergency medical services with the focus on improving the quality of care and accountability.
Promoting Heritage - To preserve and promote the unique cultural heritage of our community. The FY 2006 Budget includes funding for the Museums of Kent County and the first phase of restoring the Granary at Turners Creek.
Senior Citizens - To facilitate a satisfying and independent lifestyle for Kent Countyís senior citizens. The FY 2006 Budget includes additional funding to Upper Shore Aging to support the operation of the Senior Center and continued funding of the public transportation system.
Governance - To strive for excellence in governance through leadership, integrity, innovation, teamwork, and communication.
Commissioner Pickrum noted that the hours of work for all County employees will now be increased from thirty-five to forty hours per week. It is the Boardís feeling that by increasing work hours is the most cost effective way to keep up with the demand rather than additional hiring. In doing so, it has been recognized that the hourly wage rate would decrease by this action and salaries have been adjusted accordingly.
Commissioner Livie reviewed the fiscal challenges and sources of revenue.
- Property taxes are the Countyís largest revenue source and are budgeted at $18,463,600 or 54.8% of total revenue. This revenue is collected from Kent County property owners who are taxed on the assessed value of their property. The fiscal year 2006 property tax rate will decrease from $1.012 to $.992 per $100 of assessable value of property. This will be the first decrease in the County tax rate in twenty-six years.
Fiscal year 2006 revenue and expenses are budgeted to increase $2,821,000 or 9.1% over the 2005 budget level.
Commissioner Pickrum presented the report with respect to how revenues are spent, as follows:
- The Kent County Public School System is the Countyís largest expenditure. Approximately 44.5% of the total Countyís operating budget is spent in this area as follows:
- Operations ....................................................$14,257,600
- Debt Service for Capital Projects..................$ 726,700
The funding for operations reflects an increase of $769,000 or 5.4% increase over FY05 as well as $169,000 for debt service for KCPS capital projects.
- The County will also allocate $5,330,000 or 65% of its total Capital Projects Budget to fund the second phase of the high school renovation project and the athletic stadium lights.
County debt service accounts for 3.7% of the total budget and includes the following projects: A Nicholson landfill closure, Edesville water & sewer project, CFF water & sewer project, central alarm radio upgrade projects, Public Works Complex, County Government Center, solid waste equipment, Dulin landfill closure, Chesapeake College capital projects, senior center, Public landings projects, detention center roof repairs, Worton Business Park infrastructure, LaMotte Corporate Campus, and net pension plan obligation.
- Mr. Alan Hanifee, President of the Board of Education, stated that todayís demands on education systems are greater than ever. The system is more labor intensive than ever before because of state mandates. Kentís third gradersí scores on the MSAs were number one in math and number three in reading. Kentís high school will need a great deal of extra effort; it is not acceptable to reduce staff at that facility. The Board of Education constantly strives for excellence to create a positive environment for all students. Therefore, he requested more funding for all students in Kent County public schools in order to accomplish all goals of the school system.
- Dr. Bonnie Ward, Superintendent of Kent County Public Schools, stated that because the Board of Education (BOE) does not have the ability to levy taxes, it has to rely completely on the County, the State and the federal governments. Moreover, BOE has to abide by state and federal mandates. The BOE is subject to formal bargaining for teachersí salaries and benefits; all teachers must meet rigorous certifications; and BOE must comply with the No Child Left Behind Act. Dr. Ward stated that every year she has reduced staffing numbers. She summarized by requesting that additional funding be considered.
- Leslie Raimond, President of the Kent County Arts Council, expressed appreciation for the budget increase from $5,000 to $6,500. She stated the increase was very encouraging inasmuch as she views the arts as an integral and essential part of the quality of life in Kent County, coalescing with education, tourism, heritage, and history. She stated that Kent County is known for its very strong arts scene. She reported that an Artsvantage grant, a grant program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), was awarded to Marlon Saunders, professional musician, teacher, and native of Kent County, for composing and recording African American history in Kent County. Of the eighty-seven grants awarded by the NEA, only two were awarded the full amount and Mr. Saundersís grant was one of the two.
- Richard Feeny, of Worton, expressed appreciation to the Commissioners for the excellent job they have done in delineating expenditures and inquired when funds will be spent and requested additional information relating to debt retirement. Mrs. Merritt, Budget and Accounting Director, offered to provide this information as requested.
- Robert Myers, of Chestertown, stated that the County cannot continue to lose ground in the tax base, based on numbers of County-owned properties which are tax-exempt. He thanked the Commissioners for lowering the property tax rate but, he regretted that assessments continue to rise. He expressed concern as to [alleged] inappropriate actions taken by the Health Department as to interpretation of restrictions and guidelines. He also asked how Stateís Attorney Robert Strong plans to spend all of the funds his annual report boasts that his office collects.
- Betty Weller, representing Kent County Teachers Association, stated that even if enrollments decrease, expenses increase. She stated that Kent County is a training ground for teachers, just as it had been for Public Safety (until Public Safety salaries were raised). She stated that salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living. She presented a document that demonstrates how much lower Kent salaries are than comparable locations.
- J. Brian Kirby, of Chestertown, member of the BOE, but indicated that he was speaking for himself tonight and not for the BOE personally thanked the Commissioners for their allocation to the BOE. He said that he was grateful that the County allocated $800,000 more than required by State Law. He said that the salary increases were long overdue for employees and commended the Commissioners for everything they have done for the County employees.
That concluded the testimonies. Commissioner Pickrum asked if anyone else wished to speak.
Jeanne Edwards, representing the staff of the Budget and Accounting office, thanked the Commissioners for listening to their point at their regular meeting on Tuesday, June 14, for valuing them as employees, and for reconsidering their budget decision.
Commissioner Pickrum stated that across the State, Local Management Boards (LMB) are not very effective, but he made a point of stating that in Kent County that is not the case. He said that it is a very important entity and he personally thanked Anne Livie, the Director, for how well Kentís LMB operates.
In conclusion, Commissioner Pickrum emphasized that the Commissioners value everyone who works for the County. He stated that as a career Coast Guard Officer, he had had vast experience in many and varied situations and he had never worked with such a fine staff as he does now with Kent County.
It is proposed that the Commissioners will adopt the Fiscal Year 2006 Budget and Tax Levy on June 21, 2005 at 10:45 a.m.
This hearing was taped for reference and adjourned at 7:40 p.m.
THE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
OF KENT COUNTY, MARYLAND
Janice F. Fletcher
William W. Pickrum, President