Kent County School Superintendent Karen Couch rolled out a budget request on Tuesday that was $1.1 million over last year — but not before getting an earful from the Kent Commissioners on expected revenue shortfalls in the wake of COVID-19.
“All of us have seen the school budget request and we’ve got to look at some realities here,” said Kent Commissioner President Tom Mason in Tuesday’s webcast meeting. “In these unprecedented times…the reality is this can’t happen.”
The $1.1 request over last year does not include a mandatory increase of $510,000, which the commissioners are required to pay under the Maryland’s Maintenance of Effort law. The MOE law prohibits a county from funding their school systems at less per pupil than the prior year.
For fiscal 2021, the MOE increase is due to an increase in enrollment.
With the revenue outlook uncertain, the commissioners have considered seeking a waiver from the state for the mandatory MOE increase. Mason said other counties were also seeking waivers.
“I would hope…that the board of education and the superintendent would support that and sign the request,” Mason said to Couch via Skype.
The additional $1.1 million request over last year includes an additional $700,000 for raises and health insurance premiums, $145,000 for 2.5 new positions and $50,000 was requested for new furniture.
“With our finances and what we’re projecting I don’t know where we’re coming from with this budget,” Mason said. “You’re living here in this county and you’re living here in this country knowing what has happened in the last…six weeks.”
County tax revenues are expected to drop dramatically with unemployment rising and businesses struggling to pay their property taxes.
Mason said the county was projecting a decrease in income tax revenue of up to 30 percent, which translates into a $3 to $4 million deficit to the county.
“I think it’s irresponsible to think that any department could ask for an increase,” he said.
Mason said all county departments have been notified to expect flat funding in fiscal 2021, which means no increase in spending over last year.
He said there would be no raises, no new positions and no promotions in fiscal 2021 and that the county may need to borrow money for capital projects for the school system if revenue remains light.
“If there are some capital project that can’t be ignore, we my have to borrow the money because this year’s property tax revenue and income tax revenue is likely to go way down,” said Commissioner Ron Fithian in brief interview on Wednesday.
Adding to a shortfall in tax revenue, the commissioners have decided to delay this year’s property tax sale from May 14 to August 13, which will further delay revenue receipts.
The county will advertise the tax sale three weeks prior and after July 26 taxpayers will need to remit payment with cash or certified funds.
Property owners will also have up to August 12 to pay taxes in arrears, but will have to reimburse the advertising costs to the county.