We were reminded at the May 2 meeting (and again at the public hearings that day) that Bill 1529 to adopt the County’s Proposed FY 2024 Budget will be voted upon on May 23.
With moments to spare after the meeting and before the first hearing, County Manager Clay Stamp took this opportunity to thank Finance Director Martha Sparks, Assistant Director Kaitlin Foster-Clark, Assistant County Manager Jessica Morris, and the Council and staff and everyone who had contributed to completing this task.
The proposed FY 2024 budget of $128,849,000, up $16,241,621 from the FY 2023 approved budget of $112,607,379, maintains the county’s strong focus upon public safety and education and prioritizes capital improvements for required infrastructure and mandated services.
Funded to Blueprint requirements and above Maintenance of Effort, Education remains the County’s largest expense. Projected to be 43.7% of FY 2024 general fund expenditures and having been budgeted at 48.9% for FY 2023, capital improvements including sewer modifications and extensions, road repairs and issues of employee recruitment and retention had also become matters of consequence.
Talbot’s real property tax rate is both the lowest of Maryland’s counties and the County’s largest source of revenue. This rate is up 2% in the proposed FY 2024 budget, accompanied by the one cent increase approved by voters in 2020.
There is also a 4.8% supplement for Education, and the County’s 0.6820 real property tax rate will be raised to 0.7434 per $100. A property assessed at $300,000 would see an increase of $184.
Income taxes are the County’s second largest source of revenue, and an income tax rate of 2.40%, the second lowest among Maryland’s counties, remains unchanged.
Budgeting in a conservative manner by overestimating expenses and underestimating revenues to maintain a healthy fund balance provides the County’s third largest source of funds. Then there are also service charges, license fees, and grants and transfers from other funds.
It cannot be easy to both cope with a 2% cap on the county’s largest source of revenue and pay down debt, but this is being accomplished. Both Moody’s and Fitch have praised these efforts, and the modest crowd attending these hearings offered well-deserved thanks.
Sheriff Joe Gamble, Neighborhood Service Center Chair Frank Divilio, Mr. Coppersmith of Chesapeake College, Dana Newman of the Easton Free Library, Vice President Robert Fortoney of Talbot County Libraries, and Superintendent of Talbot County Public Schools, Sharon Pepukayi all expressed their gratitude.
Council President Callahan expressed his appreciation for this opportunity to get to know Superintendent Pepukayi and the budget staff over the past few months. He then smiled and thanked them “for not attacking us yet.”
A spirit of levity now prevailed, and Council Vice President Lesher, recognizing the effort put into this mission over the past several months, offered his thanks to a county staff with “sharp pencils.”
Reminded once again that Bill 1529 to adopt the Proposed FY 2024 Budget could be approved at the May 23 meeting, County Manager Stamp mentioned that he “wouldn’t live anywhere but Talbot County.”
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.