Calvert County commissioners on Tuesday approved a $126.1 million budget for the next fiscal year that includes money for a range of new workers and facilities: five new sheriff's deputies, an $11.3 million middle school, a $1.6 million Dunkirk fire station and $1 million to design a community college campus.
On a 3 to 2 vote, the commissioners rejected a request for $45,000 for a specialist to run recreational programs for disabled children, saying they want more information and will revisit the issue in two weeks.
"We have no information, no firm numbers," said Board of Commissioners President Linda L. Kelley (R-Owings). "We're not experts. We're on shaky ground here."
The request was part of a last-minute push by parents of disabled children who say the county ignores their needs. It was the only request for funding made during a sparsely attended public hearing on the budget last week. Democrat Barbara A. Stinnett (At Large) and independent John Douglas Parran (At Large) supported the request.
"It's obvious to me we need this position," said Stinnett, whose grandson has Tourette's syndrome. "It's important to deal with a population that is not being served today, by everyone's admission."
While 1,700 children are enrolled in the county's special education programs, it is unclear how many of them would participate in recreational programs designed for disabled children.
Commissioner Patrick M. Buehler (D-St. Leonard) said he is willing to fund a recreational specialist after learning that a consultant studying sheriff's department staffing believes the county may have one deputy too many.
Buehler said the police staff study, which officials expected to release in coming weeks, suggests that Calvert needs a total of 10 new deputies. But the county, with the five included in the fiscal 2000 budget, has now set aside money to hire 11 new officers next year.
Buehler suggested the county could take the money allocated to an extraneous deputy -- about $70,469 -- and use it to hire a recreational specialist. But that suggestion drew fire from Kelley, a vocal advocate for Sheriff Vonzell R. Ward (R).
"We've already agreed to fund five deputies in the budget," she said. "I'm not going to kill one to fund a therapist, when we have no idea of the need."
Board members agreed to give county staff members two weeks to analyze whether a specialist is needed and said they will revisit the issue early next month.
The commissioners can amend the budget to include funding for the specialist at any time, County Administrator James J. Allman said.
The spending plan approved Tuesday is slightly higher than the current budget of $119.2 million but local property taxes will remain the same under the budget, at $2.23 for every $100 of assessed value. The new fiscal year begins July 1.