Wicomico County leaders deliver State of the County report


WICOMICO COUNTY, Md. – Thursday, Wicomico County leaders and department heads gathered to discuss progress made, and work ahead.

State of the County is “Good”

County Executive Julie Giordano tells 47 ABC she wanted to make her State of the County address alongside those who help run it. Each department head was present, and gave reports on their respective work.

“This is what they do every day, and they love what they do. I thought it was really important to have the public hear it from them, hear what’s happening, hear the passion in their voices, and also match a face to a name,”  said Giordano. “The department heads in our county have really embraced my vision of being more customer service-friendly, and helping out our citizens, and just realizing that we work for them.”

Human Resources Department

Human Resources Director Donna O’Hara says the county has made significant progress in her team’s office.

“We aim to be a model of excellence and leadership to other departments within the county system, delivering resources and services, and partnerships that support and enable the county’s goals, objectives, and long-term mission to be fulfilled,” said O’Hara.

Since December 6th, 2023, new hires jumped 44%, full-time vacancies fell 51%, and terminations and unsatisfactory resignations decreased by 23% and 25%, respectively. About 20 vacancies have been filled in corrections, and the county has hired 36 new part-time employees.

In the first quarter of 2023, O’Hara says workman’s compensation claims fell 136% percent. “Our employees, our supervisors, and our managers are doing a great job of making sure that we work safely,” she said.

O’Hara says department heads have been meeting with Giordano and Director of Administration Bunky Luffman weekly. Adding, that hasn’t been done in years.

“These meetings have provided an opportunity for all of our department heads to come together to celebrate our victories, share our challenges, learn from one another, and increase our cohesiveness for the ultimate benefit of the entire county,” said O’Hara.

Public Works Department

Acting Director of Public Works, Heather Lankford, also touted improvements in her department.

The roads division has made new hires, installed 2,400 feet of curb and gutter, rehabilitated 18 storm water inlets and lines, and cleaned 4,325 feet of ditches. 7.5 miles of dirt road have been capped, 52 miles of underbrush has been cleared from roadsides, 5.5 tons of patching material has been used to fix potholes and broken road edges, and 37.83 tons of roadside litter has been cleared.

“Each of these objectives have taken teamwork and effort that has been utilized not only to maintain the roads, but to be proactive when possible, and resend to issues in a timely fashion,” said Lankford.

In the waste division, Lankford says they are building new cells to be able to handle additional waste. The county landfill has received about 32,365 tons of trash, bringing in $1.9 million for the solid waste enterprise fund. Recycling has taken in 1,681 tons of material, bringing the grand total of revenue raised to $2,290,882.

Lankford says the engineering division is also hard at work, having issued 44 storm water management plans and permitting reviews since December 6th. She adds that the division is working to update storm water pollution prevention plans.

Planning and Zoning Department and SWED

Lori Carter, Director of Planning and Zoning, displayed a 9-point customer bill of rights. She says it’s what Wicomico County citizens can expect when it comes to service in her department.

Carter also shared that the department has put out 110 permits, with a total construction value of $13 million since December 6th. Now, the department is working with city and state agencies to get a $500,000 grant to renovate and repurpose the former Campbell Soup facility in Salisbury.

However, one of the challenges in efforts like those, is finding the space to do it, says Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development Executive Director, David Ryan.

“One of the challenges is to find industrial space. We’re working with the development community as intensely as we can, and as closely as we can, towards creating more industrial space,” said Ryan.

Ryan says the county should look towards repurposing old facilities, and using “shovel-ready” sites. That would reduce the time leading up to construction, says Ryan.

Aviation Department

Tony Rudy, Director of the Aviation Department, says exciting things are happening at the Salisbury Airport. “A lot of our planning efforts that were in place have been completed. We’ve moved on to a lot of our design work,” he said.

The airport’s longest taxiway was repaved, a drone operations hangar was built, terminal bathrooms renovated, the parking lot automated, and city water was linked up to the property. However, Rudy says the biggest projects are coming this summer.

Those projects will include a 1,200-foot runway extension, building a snow removal equipment and aircraft rescue firefighting facility, and renovating the air traffic control tower and hangars. Rudy says the airport also plans to build a solar farm and cell tower.

“These projects will cut utility costs both for the airport, and for county facilities, as well as bringing a new revenue source to the airport, and improving cell phone service in an area that much needs it,” said Rudy.

What Rudy and Ryan seem most excited by, however, is the creation of an aviation maintenance technician school at  the airport. “We’ve had a shortage of mechanics, not only locally, but nationwide. This program will supply new talent into that area,” said Rudy.

Ryan says that shortage could have a domino effect, leading to overbooked flights and higher ticket prices. The airport is working with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, County Executive, Piedmont Airlines, and the state to get the school going.

“We know that the best way to maintain that scheduled airline service, and the best way to grow it, is to create pipeline of talent,” said Ryan. “In exchange, we can create good jobs for area residents for the foreseeable future.”

Public Safety and Local Management Board

Law enforcement officials say work on the county’s new public safety complex is on track. However, it didn’t come without setbacks.

“We do have some issues with the supply chain. But, thus far we’ve been able to work around them by finding substitute equipment and construction materials that still allow us to do it, and keep us on time,” said Major Todd Richardson of the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office.

Major Richardson says the complex is expected to open next spring.

Meanwhile, work to give other kinds of protection for citizens is also underway at the Local Management Board.

Local Management Board (LMB) Director, Jamie Riley, says they are preparing for the next community needs assessment, which is run every three years. The assessment will run from April 2023 to October 2023.

Riley says the board has been largely focused on reducing childhood hunger, homelessness, and adverse childhood experiences. At the same time, Riley says increasing education opportunities and mental health resources is another key priority.

The LMB has fed more than 6,050 families this year, says Riley. She adds that navigation services for those experiencing homelessness have helped 50 families. The LMB also provides job skills and employment resources for young people, says Riley. An upcoming event in May, in partnership with Wicomico County Public Schools, will feature 40 vendors, live entertainment, and resources for families in need.

Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department

In the last few months, Director of the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department, Steve Miller, says they too have made great strides. The 40th anniversary of the Governor’s Challenge was marked, and the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center hosted a monster truck rally, rodeo, and Maryland’s state wrestling championships.

The department is also focusing on quality of life initiatives. Miller says four new video boards were installed at the Civic Center, transforming the interior and giving them the ability to deliver different services. Two shoreline restoration projects have been completed, and four playgrounds have seen significant upgrades.

Miller says the pickleball and basketball complex at Harmon Field is coming soon, as well as a sensory trail at Field 7 and a half. Billy Gene Jackson Park will also see a rededication in the coming months.

“We’re in the process of undertaking $700,000 worth of improvements at that well-used park, to install brand new lighting throughout the facility, and improve the playing conditions for the kids and adults,” said Miller.

Looking ahead, Miller says a portion of Pirate’s Wharf will be opened to the public in September. Cove Road Beach will double in size, says Miller, and a $7 million improvement is coming to the Civic Center to improve safety and functionality. Residents can also expect a new dog park in the north end of the county, and renovations to Mason Dixon Sports Complex.

“We continue to make very steady progress on many long-term projects that will benefit the citizens of our community,” said Miller.

Finance Department

Pam Oland, Director of Finance, says her department has been wrapped up in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan, covering Fiscal Years 2024 to 2028. The plan was approved by County Council in February.

“That plan gives Finance, and all the departments as a whole, a roadmap as to what we’re hoping to fund over the next five years. It is about $133 million worth of projects,” said Oland.

Oland also says an audit on the county showed promising numbers.

“That audit report states that we were able to spend less money than was budgeted, and we were able to add about $13 million to our fund balance. With that, the two major areas that was created by was unexpected income taxes, about $9 million, as well as expenditures below budget,” said Oland.

The budget process is underway, and in its early stages. Oland says the final budget is due the third week of April.

Categories: Local News, Maryland