St. Mary’s County will get $10 million over the next 18 years as part of an opioid settlement with pharmacies.
Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) made the announcement at the beginning of a Feb. 28 afternoon work session. It will amount to $500,000-plus a year, he said.
Chief Finance Officer Jeanett Cudmore said the county already received $246,000 of the funds, which are part of its “miscellaneous revolving fund.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to accept their part of the national settlement.
In other news, the commissioners agreed to provide an additional $5 million in funds for St. Mary’s County Public Schools over the current fiscal year. The school system had requested an extra $8.5 million. SMCPS is slated to get an additional $16.7 million from the state for fiscal 2024, according to a board document.
Officials noted the additional $5 million is just a starting point. Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) wanted to provide an additional $6 million, but three of the commissioners balked, including Hewitt, Scott Ostrow (R) and Randy Guy (R). Mike Alderson didn’t speak on the issue and noted that his wife is a teacher.
Alderson later said the county has an additional $11.7 million in projected revenue to divide between various departments. Hewitt said the commissioners received additional funding requests totaling $29 million.
With the approval of an extra $5 million, St. Mary’s schools’ Superintendent Scott Smith said they would cut about $5 million from their requested budget. In addition to $3.5 million not authorized by the commissioners, an additional $1.7 million for healthcare insurance will have to be affected, according to Tammy McCourt, the school system’s assistant superintendent of fiscal services. The latter is because they budgeted 5% more for health insurance premium increases, but the actual number came in at 10%.
Hewitt noted the school system was asking for funding for an additional 67 positions when they are having difficulty filling and keeping the ones they have.
Smith said the school system has 89 vacancies currently, which include about 25 teachers and classroom staff.
The school system plans to give teachers a 5.5% cost-of-living adjustment and a step increase next year.
Smith said they requested $843,215 for security vestibules at elementary schools, which would require hiring 18 more staffers to watch people entering the buildings adequately.
“This isn’t just a box. We already have boxes,” he said, noting that the vestibules would add other security features. Such currently exist at the county’s high schools.
“We’re hiring 400 to 500 people a year, and we’re exiting more than that,” Smith said, lamenting the school system’s situation. He said the local navy base pays teachers about $20,000 more yearly to work there. Smith said that teachers are breaking their employment contracts to work on base, which puts their teaching certification at risk and sometimes results in losing their escrow account.
“Math, science and English teachers make some of the best technical writers,” he said.
“We are in a crisis, unprecedented,” he added.
McCourt said the system is increasing starting salaries for bus drivers to $26.48 an hour and paying bus attendants $22.18 an hour.
Toward the end of the work session, Hewitt said he wanted to eliminate the county’s 1.25% energy tax. Ostrow agreed, but the other three commissioners didn’t. Guy said he’d be open to reducing the tax but not wiping it out entirely. He said doing so could hurt the county’s bond rating.
Ostrow suggested cutting the tax in half, but that didn’t go anywhere.