Having been through several weeks of budget planning, the council was familiar with this issue and pleased to raise the monthly 911 call rate from $.75 to $1.50. As discussed during budget presentations, this fee hadn’t been raised in 19 years. Public safety is a priority; and this increase may not cover all expenses, but it moves us in a positive direction.
Then following an update from Easton Airport at the April 25 council meeting, the Airfield Modernization Program was presented. With safety as a priority, runways will become longer. The outdated business center will also be demolished and replaced, and electricity usage will be reduced by 30%. Drain pipes will also be replaced. Impervious surfaces will be reduced; and with the county’s approval, all of this will happen over six years for $52 million, or possibly more now.
Talbot’s FY 2023 budget was $112.6 million. The FY 2024 proposed is $128.8 million. That’s up approximately 14%. Revenues are also up 14.7%. There’s a surplus; but more importantly, the council was also informed that the FAA will cover 90% of these costs, whatever they may be. Grants could cover more, and the airport will cover any remaining expenses.
Reassured that Easton Airport has planned adequately, and that it is self-sustaining and able to meet its obligations, requests were approved for permission to apply for FAA grant funding; and contingent upon that funding, hire a consultant and a contractor for this major safety and technology upgrade.
A $52 million price tag would understandably cause concern. Funded above Maintenance of Effort in FY 2023 for $50.2 million, Education is our county’s largest and most debated expenditure. Now with a mandated increase of $4.1 million for FY 2024 and little choice regarding funding levels (whichever is higher, MOE or Blueprint), $54.3 million is proposed for FY 2024.
There is an Education Supplement of $3.9 million, but those funds can be used only for education. That was mentioned several times during budget deliberations.
There’s $900,000 for renovations at Chapel Elementary, and $286,000 for social workers has been mentioned. $86,129 for additional school nurses is budgeted as a Health expenditure, but thank goodness the state covers most of those expenses. Healthcare is our county’s largest employer.
Property taxes are our county’s largest source of revenue. Those rates are the lowest in the state; and with a revenue cap of 2% and few exceptions, overestimating expenses and underestimating revenues is providing a healthy balance and rainy day funds.
Unexpended funds are our county’s third highest source of revenue for FY 2024 in Budget and Appropriation Ordinance 1529 currently under consideration – just after property and income taxes.
But with a balance of over $60 million mentioned recently and just under $20 million included as FY2024 revenue, ample funding should remain. We seem to be headed in a positive direction.
Maintaining public safety and an infrastructure that supports a healthy and dynamic economy, County Engineer Ray Clarke is planning roadway improvements near the airport and at several other intersections down Rt. 50. Also addressing wastewater treatment issues throughout the county, this evening he was granted permission to apply for a wastewater treatment grant, and a housing bond allocation was addressed.
Upon closing the meeting, Council President Callahan reiterated that great things are going on at the airport, and the council will keep the public informed in a more festive manner in the future. Budget deliberations will be over soon.
The coming week will be busy. The next council meeting will be at 1:30 pm on Tuesday, May 2, and the FY 2024 budget hearing will be held at 2 pm at the Bradley Meeting Room and at 7 pm at the Easton Elementary cafeteria.
Residents of Easton will also be voting for mayor and Wards 1 and 3 town council members at the Easton Volunteer Firehouse on May 2 from 7 am to 8 pm.
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.