The divisiveness and tensions that have dominated politics in Ocean City and Salisbury of late spread south to Snow Hill this week.
Worcester County Commission meetings are known for being predictable and curt with most issues hammered out prior to public meetings. It’s been this way for years and the commissioners rarely disagree in open sessions like their counterparts in Ocean City and Salisbury.
That was not the case this week as dissension and even a surprise was in store when it came to discussing the budget, specifically giving all employees an increase in pay.
Since Commissioners James Purnell and Virgil Shockley are school bus drivers and subsequently would be deciding their own financial welfare, they were unable to participate in the employee raise vote. Therefore, a 3-2 vote took place to give employees a 2.5-percent boost in salary. That was until Commissioner Madison Bunting referenced a code requirement that said four votes were needed. The commissioners appeared blindsided by Bunting, but the county attorney confirmed he was correct.
The wheels of compromise then churned publicly. A 2-percent raise was eventually floated and did pass 4-1 with Bunting again opposed.
Amidst all this was Bunting’s desire to forgo raises for a one-time bonus, which ultimately could not be done due to the school system’s complexities involving requirements of Maintenance of Effort, the state law that requires per-pupil education funding remain at least flat compared to the previous year.
What this week’s decision confirms is the speakers at the public hearing earlier this month who requested increased education funding and employee raises won over a majority of the commission. In this case, the vocal folks got what they wanted, although education funding was sliced reduced from what the Board of Education proposed. Whether they were the vocal minority or the silent majority is unknown.
Obviously, all county employees will see the benefits of the raise, not just those in education. The employee making $45,000 will see a salary increase of $900, while the $25,000 worker will earn an extra $500 and the administrator making $100,000 will see $2,000 more.
In his disagreement with the decision, Bunting said his heart, not politics, was guiding his decision and that he could not stomach raising taxes for residents while giving employees a raise, even if it’s the first in three years.
What’s clear today is property owners will see their taxes increased this year (a mid-term election year coincidentally or not) and county employees will be taking home more money as a direct result. The raise was not the reason for the entire increase, but it factored into maybe a penny of it.
Whether that’s okay with the citizens of this county is unclear today, but that’s what their elected officials decided this week in a 4-3 vote.