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Hot stock market could boost county surplus

March 20, 1998

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Washington County's budget surplus could reach $4 million this year depending on how the stock market performs, county officials said Thursday.

Washington County Finance Director Debra Bastian said that the county has a surplus of about $2.3 million so far in the 1998 budget year, which ends June 30. Bastian predicted a final surplus of between $2 million and $4 million, depending on the stock market.

"Just use $4 million," County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop told the Washington County Commissioners at a budget workshop Thursday.

County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers predicted the surplus would reach $5 million. Bowers said $3 million should be used to lower the county's borrowing in fiscal year 1999 from $6.5 million to $3.5 million, and the remaining $2 million could pay for general fund programs.

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Reducing the county's debt by $3 million would save $300,000 a year in debt service costs for the next 20 years, he said.

"Use the surplus. That's what it's there for," Bowers said.

Bastian said she would prefer surplus money to be used to lower borrowing in fiscal 2000 for capital projects and to build up cash reserves.

Bastian projected that the county would have to borrow $12 million to cover projects planned for that year.

County Commissioner John S. Shank said the county shouldn't plan to run up large surpluses.

"It's hard for me to explain to people why we raised taxes when we have a surplus every year," he said.

The commissioners raised property taxes last year from $2.21 to $2.31 per $100 in assessed property value.

Bastian said a booming stock market and a strong economy resulted in higher than expected income tax revenue.

The county recorded a $4.7 million surplus in fiscal year 1997.

Bastian predicted a $5.28 million increase in tax collections next year.

A working draft of the 1999 county budget presented by Bastian also includes:

- A $700,000 cut in the county's general fund subsidy for water, sewer and pretreatment to $2.8 million.

- $1.33 million more for debt service.

- $725,000 to pay for new employees and other personnel costs.

- $550,000 to fund a 4 percent pay raise.

Commissioner James R. Wade said the commissioners haven't made any decisions on the budget.

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