A preliminary budget that’s higher on the expense side than the income side has become something of an annual ritual for Worcester County government, just as the reaction by the public has usually involved some handwringing.
Looking at the history of the county budget process, however, this theoretical financial conundrum appears to be worse than it actually is.
Different governments assemble their budgets in different ways, and that’s especially so for the county, which is the biggest source of income for the public school system, a major source of income for numerous nonprofit organizations and a significant source of income to community-level governments and fire companies. And, of course, it has to take care of its own operations.
Local governments, such as Berlin, Ocean Pines and Ocean City, do a great deal of preliminary work on their financial packages because their operations are more contained.
As a result, the initial proposals that their decision-makers receive comes as close to a finished product as possible. That’s the way their presiding officials like it — a few refinements here, a few philosophical points argued there, and the package is all but done.
The county can’t do it that way because it has less control over some of its budget’s beneficiaries, whose requests can’t be preliminarily massaged into shape as easily by county staff. Consequently, the commissioners frequently find themselves having to play the hand they’re dealt.
At this stage, the commissioner’s draft budget for next year is just another example of county government’s partners and subordinate beneficiaries asking for as much as they can justify while hoping to get something close to that.
As of a couple of weeks ago, the county’s budget was roughly $11 million short of what it needed. That sounds like trouble, but if the county’s budgeting history is any indication, chances are it will all work out in the end.