By Stephanie Lipcius Palko
This week, the Cecil County Council reviewed the recommended budgets of more than a dozen areas of county government.
Many of the budgets appear to be roughly the same as the current fiscal year, but there were some proposed expenditures and some questions from Council members.
The Cecil County Council has wanted to replace and improve the microphones in the Elk Room at the county administration building. Council administrator James Massey said he had submitted a proposal costing $6,500 to the county administration more than two years ago and there are still not enough microphones for larger meetings and the cords for the microphones run across the floor, creating a potential tripping hazard.
The microphone project is part of a technology improvement project of well over $100,000 in the proposed budget and includes LED screens and other technology.
The Council also heard of a plan in the budget to add a Public Information Officer to the administration. This position would be responsible for working with the news media and would also answer questions and field problems and complaints from county residents. The amount budgeted for this position is nearly $55,000 as a starting salary. This position has been recommended for the county by economic development leaders for several years.
The county administration has promised to add $20,000 for newspaper advertising to the Council’s budget. This line item was inadvertently left out of the budget and public notification is required by law.
The proposed budget for legal services is up by about $50,000 for the coming fiscal year. It is anticipated the money will be needed for collective bargaining legal representation.
Council members felt that a request from the facilities maintenance division of $60,000 for a courthouse utilization study seems rather excessive since the courthouse underwent extensive renovations about three or four years ago.
Facilities management is also hoping for a capital project in excess of $500,000 to redo the holding cells for males and females at the courthouse for trials and hearings. This would also include renovations to the bailiffs’ office, waiting room for prisoner transport officers and some work in related areas. It was noted that in 2015, the courthouse saw 1,192 males prisoners and 361 female prisoners needed to be held awaiting their time in one of the courtroom.
A portion of the building the holds the Sheriff’s Office and 911 center also needs some renovation. The goal is to add more space to the emergency services offices. The plan would see an empty space between two offices of the same home healthcare service be renovated so that the offices could be next to each other. The space vacated in the move is next to emergency services and would allow the expansion. The cost would be $150 per square foot for the renovation.
The Council also discussed the fact that the building housing emergency services added $180,000 to the county. There was some controversy about the county purchasing the property and becoming landlords for some tenants about a year ago, but the Council was happy to see that the expected benefits of owning the building have become a reality.
Healthcare costs continue to be an issue in the county with Councilman Dan Schneckenburger asking the finance department to meet with school officials on healthcare. The school board had reported their healthcare system is in good financial shape. Finance Director Winston Robinson said the schools pay a higher amount for their healthcare. It was also noted that the county has had healthcare issues because of an unpredictable rate of major illnesses. This rate is three times the expected rate for the number of people covered. Robinson noted that spouses of county workers are not stressing the system with claims, saying that they are using less in healthcare than is being paid in premiums.
While talking budget issues with Planning Director Eric Sennstrom, Council members asked how he will manage County Executive Alan McCarthy’s consolidation of Permits & Inspections and land planning functions in Public Works into the Planning Office. Sennstrom said there will be the position of Chief added in the chain of command, explaining that Chief Patrick Conway will manage permits and inspections, Chief Kordell Willen will handle plan reviews, and Chief Anthony DiGiacomo handling the planning and zoning.