Kent County has to pay an additional $60,000 to the local health department here as part of the annual Core Public Health Services Funding Agreement to fund 10 essential services. 

The increase is a result of a collective bargaining agreement announced in January with several state unions, said Kent County Health Officer Bill Webb. The increases are for salaries and cost of living adjustments (COLA).

Commissioner President Tom Mason took issue with salary increases this year when budgets are tight at the local and state level in the age of COVID-19 — and when county employees had to forgo pay increases this year.

“We all want to see salaries go up,” Mason said, addressing Webb at Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting. “We didn’t give our employees cost of living increases, so why is the state thinking they should do it?”

“I thought Gov. Hogan had said that he wasn’t giving raises and cost of living increases to state employees, so why is this different?” Mason asked.

Webb responded that the increases came after a three-year negotiation that was finalized in January, well before the COVID-19 outbreak.

He was empathetic that the Commissioners were blindsided by the sudden announcement of the increase. He said typically counties are notified “well in advance of when they’re actually going into effect.”

Notice to the Commissioners came in July after the fiscal 2021 budget was passed. 

“We’re not used to getting additional requests after the budget is already passed,” said Commissioner Ron Fithian.

Webb said it was mostly social workers and nurses that received a six percent increase in salaries. 

Each year, funding local health departments is shared between the state and the counties based on a formula calculated by the Maryland Department of Budget and Management to fund 10 essential public health services. The formula takes into account the tax base and the ability of the county governments to tax its residents.

For Kent this year the state will kick in $847,000, which is 69 percent of the total funding needed and the county will need to fund $374,271, which is 31 percent of the total costs.

The split is not the same for all counties. Worcester County, which is home to Ocean City, has a much broader tax base and has to fund the lion’s share of its service agreement with the state at 73 percent. Conversely, the state picks up 80 percent of the costs in neighboring Somerset County, the poorest in the state.