Having heard the needs and requests of county departments and agencies, negotiated options when practicable and determined revenue gaps for FY 2024, Talbot County Manager Clay Stamp and Budget Director Martha Sparks presented an overview of the county’s FY 2024 budget on March 16. The council is now in the process of budget deliberation.
Talbot County budgets conservatively. Expenses are overestimated, and revenues are underestimated, resulting in revenues that surpass budgeted expenses. A two percent revenue cap passed several years ago had been a point of contention at times; but providing a cushion addressed that issue, and Talbot County been awarded the highest ratings of both Moody’s and Fitch.
Talbot’s property tax rate is the lowest among Maryland’s counties, and its income tax is the second lowest; but a small share of large incomes can be quite a lot. We were reminded that just 1.5 percent of taxpayers are providing approximately 30 percent of the county’s revenue – in a county whose residents may also have a considerable amount of valuable waterfront property.
Expenditures have been slightly less than budgeted. Those numbers are up, but with a “rainy day fund” in reserve, the county is on target to spend less than in FY 2023. The general fund balance, including American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds and other funds, is approximately $100 million now. (FY 2023 was approximately $112 million.)
Tax rates are certified for constant yield by the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. Talbot has a revenue cap, but the state has provided the possibility of raising funds through its education supplement. Those funds must go to the schools, though.
The general fund balance has been up over the past several years. Revenues are also expected to be up for FY 2024. With education funding, “we’re in the ballpark.” And as Council President Callahan noted, “We have a great team.”
Concerns have surfaced regarding the State of Maryland’s FY 2024 budget, as to whether or not it will provide funding for Eastern Shore projects promised during the past administration. Talbot received funding from the state for broadband in 2022.
The council is looking forward to yet another “budget wrap-up” on March 28. A public hearing for the FY 2024 is scheduled for May 4, and this mission is expected to be accomplished by May 28. The State of Maryland could have news by then, too.
Carol Voyles is a graphic designer/illustrator who retired to the Eastern Shore and became interested in politics. She serves as communications chair for the Talbot County Democratic Forum and lives in Easton.
County council videos: talbotcountymd.gov