Bailout may face opposition

November 21, 1997

Bailout may face opposition


Staff Writer

Some proposals in a requested partial state bailout of Washington County's debt-laden sewer department could face opposition in the Maryland General Assembly, local lawmakers said Thursday.

The Washington County Commissioners are seeking various forms of legislative help to pay off the $56 million debt, including a provision that would forgive the county about $10.2 million in state loans.

"I think it would be asking a lot for all of it, but just part of it would be helpful," County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said during a meeting with the commissioners, Hagerstown elected officials and members of the county's delegation to the General Assembly.


Several delegation members questioned whether the state ever forgave such debt.

"My concern is what a precedent this would be setting," said Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

Another proposal that concerned some lawmakers was a request to write into state law the county's current practice of using $3.5 million a year in taxpayer dollars from the general fund to subsidize the sewer losses.

Some delegation members said they believed such an arrangement is legal only if the subsidy were in the form of a loan to taxpayers.

But Commissioner James R. Wade said it was unlikely the money would ever be repaid.

"To suggest that we might pay it back at some point in time is an outright lie," Wade said.

The delegation plans to meet with county officials on Dec. 18 to deal specifically with the water and sewer issue. The General Assembly session begins Jan. 14.

"As a delegation, I think we will do our best to explore our options, but I can't promise anything," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who chairs the delegation.

In other legislative requests, the county faces opposition on at least some of its requests for amendments to tip jar gambling legislation.

One of its requests is to remove the requirement that the county maintain its level of funding to nonprofit groups - a measure the delegation added to the law two years ago amid of concern the commissioners could cut their funding to charities that receive tip jar funds.

But the commissioners said the mandate keeps them from spending money in other areas, such as schools, that need additional funds.

"We must realize that that (requirement) ties our hands," Wade said.

The delegation's chief proponent of the requirement, Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, did not budge from her position.

"The whole philosophy of this money was to supplement, not supplant" county funding, Hecht said.

County Gaming Commission Chairwoman Sue Tuckwell said the issue is moot unless a key provision in the gambling legislation, under which the law would expire in 1999, is removed.

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