By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Sept. 6, 2018) Among the benefits of living in Worcester County are low tax rates and ample education spending, while the drawbacks are high crime and unemployment rates, and subpar income levels, according to a 2018 “Overview of Maryland Local Governments” study published by the Department of Legislative Services.
Maryland, according to the study, is made up of 347 local governments, including 23 counties and Baltimore City, along with 156 municipalities and 167 special taxing districts.
That’s well below the national average, however. The state ranks 45th in number of local governments while neighboring Pennsylvania, for instance, ranks third with 4,897. Virginia ranks 44th and Delaware is 46th, according to the study.
Maryland was the most affluent state in the U.S., based on statistics compiled from 2012-2016, ranking first in median household income, $76,067.
According to the study, “Marylanders are highly educated with a high concentration of college-educated residents. Maryland regularly has an unemployment rate below the national average and a large concentration of high-tech jobs.”
Worcester did not fare as well, ranking second lowest in Maryland in average weekly wage, $656, which was just 56 percent of the state average. Only Garrett County was lower, averaging $632 per week.
In Montgomery County, the average weekly wage was $1,499 per week.
The unemployment rate in Worcester County was highest in the state in each of the last three years: 10.7 percent in 2015, 9 percent in 2016 and 8.4 percent in 2017.
Median household incomes and average home prices were closer to the middle of the pack. The median income was $57,227, 15th in the state, and home prices averaged $235,000, which ranked 14th highest.
While Marylanders enjoyed a high median income, the study added, “An indicator that is consistently negative, however, is the state’s high violent crime rate.”
The state ranked third in robberies, fourth in murders, 13th overall in violent crime, 19th in vehicle thefts and 20th in assaults. On the lower end of the spectrum were instances of burglary, 30th, and rape, 47th.
The Worcester County crime rate was third highest in the state, although the crime rate decreased 17 percent from 2014 to 2015.
Maryland was among the most diverse states, with racial minorities making up 48.5 percent of the population, compared to 38.7 percent nationally.
The African-American population in the state was 29.6 percent, versus 12.4 percent nationally, although the Hispanic/Latino population was lower than the national average, 9.8 percent versus 17.8 percent.
Worcester was less diverse, with 80.2 of the population identifying as white, 13.1 percent African-American and 3.4 percent Hispanic or Latino, although a further breakdown indicated the demographics may be shifting.
Between 2000 and 2016, the population of whites increased 10.1 percent and African-Americans dropped 13.1 percent. However, the county’s Hispanic and Latino population increased 195.1 percent and the Asian population, accounting for just 1.4 percent countywide, increased 145.4 percent.
Worcester, along with every other area except for Baltimore City, was growing, although not as rapidly as some other areas in Maryland. The county population increased 10.5 percent during the reporting period, but the rate of growth was ranked 15th and the population increase, 4,901 people, was 16th.
Overall, Worcester ranked 17th in population, 51,444, and 19th in population density out of 24 counties.
In a breakdown of county versus municipal annual expenditures, Worcester County spending was near the bottom, seventh lowest with $273.8 million. Municipal spending was fourth highest in Maryland, totaling $139.7 million.
Comparing counties to municipalities, Worcester County expenditures were second lowest in the state, 66.2 percent of the total, while municipal spending was second highest, accounting for 33.8 percent, all based on 2015 numbers.
In terms of county revenue, property taxes were the highest percentage in the state, 48.9 percent of total revenues, while income taxes were the lowest, 5.7 percent.
However, the actual property tax rate of $0.835 per $100 of assessed value was second lowest in the state and the income tax rate, 1.75 percent, was the lowest.
Also based on revenue, Worcester County budgets were the lowest in terms of state grants, with 16.1 percent of total revenues coming from the State of Maryland.
According to a breakdown of county expenditures, Worcester spends the majority of its budget on education, 53.9 percent. Other county expenditures by category were public safety (10.7 percent), other (9.6 percent), public works (8.4 percent), health and social services (6 percent), debt services (5.3 percent), general government (5 percent) and parks and recreation (0.9 percent).
Based on a per-capita average, total county spending was fourth highest in the state, including the fifth-highest per capita average for education and public safety, and the ninth highest for public works.
Worcester schools received the vast majority of funding from the county, and at a disproportionate rate compared to state averages.
Worcester County school revenues were 72.6 from county funds, compared to 22.9 percent from the state and 4.5 from the federal government.
Neighboring Wicomico County schools, by comparison, received 21.1 percent of their funds from the county, 72.8 percent from the state and 6.1 percent from the federal government.
Worcester ranked last in state percentage for schools and first in percentage from the county.
Those numbers were also consistent with actual dollars – the state aid per pupil was $4,195, second worst in the state, and the county aid per pupil was $18,312, the highest in Maryland.