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Schools, roads top state's aid to county

January 21, 1998

Schools, roads top state's aid to county

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County schools and roads and Hagerstown Junior College will receive the bulk of $81.3 million in state aid proposed for the county in the upcoming budget year.

The county spending is included in a proposed $16.6 billion state budget to be unveiled today by Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

The county's proposed 2.4 percent increase, from $79.4 million this year, was the fourth lowest among Glendening's proposals of state aid for Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City.

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Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said most of the appropriations are calculated by formulas, so there are few surprises.

"I think we did pretty well," said Munson, a member of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

As is always the case, much of the money is expected to go to education. County schools are budgeted to receive a total of $54.9 million in state funds next year, up $2.3 million from this year.

Glendening has sweetened the pot for schools by including $61.5 million statewide, with those funds aimed primarily at poor students and those who speak English as a second language. Washington County's share of those new funds is just over $1.1 million next year.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. would not comment on the proposal, saying it was unclear how much the school appropriation will be by the time it has been reviewed by lawmakers.

Although it is subject to the General Assembly's scrutiny, Glendening's budget is considered important because Maryland's constitution allows legislators to deduct from, but not add to, the governor's proposal.

Local highlights include:

- $8.1 million proposed for construction and maintenance of roads in the county, about the same as this year.

- $3.7 million proposed for Hagerstown Junior College, up more than $250,000 over this year.

- $1.4 million for police, fire and public safety, up about $45,000 over this year.

One lawmaker who wonders if the county and the other state jurisdictions receive too much state money is Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, who has long warned of increasing aid to local governments.

"Nobody wants to hear it, but the fact of the matter remains we are continuing to give more money to counties than we take in revenues," Poole said.

The proposal would increase local aid by an average of 5.3 percent statewide, while revenues will rise 2.8 percent, according to Glendening's budget.

"I feel like a broken record, but sooner or later it's going to be a cause of deficits," Poole said.

One area in which state spending is expected to decrease is pension contributions to schools, community colleges and libraries, as the money already invested in retirement funds is earning higher-than-expected interest rates.

Retirement contributions in the county next year are projected at $10.25 million, down some $752,000 from this year. Most of the retirement appropriation - about $9.3 million - would go to Board of Education employees. Of the remainder, $163,000 would go to employees of the Washington County Free Library and Hagerstown Junior College would get $771,000.

Spending on specific projects in the county, such as road improvements and school renovations, will be announced next week when Glendening releases his capital budget.

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