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Washington County developing plan for future

July 07, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday unveiled a long-range strategic plan that projects county government will grow by 35 employees by 2004 and will spend $27.6 million more than it will this year.

That comes on the heels of a 19-employee gain approved for the budget year that began last week.

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The strategic plan is the first effort by the county's department heads to project their costs over a five-year period.

"We hope it will be the first of many," County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop said.

Each department projected its budget and staffing needs through 2004. Shoop said the projections will serve as a road map for the commissioners as they develop budgets from year to year.

The projections show a 5.6 percent increase in the number of employees from this budget year to 2004.

Public safety areas are responsible for much of the projected increases.

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The Washington County Sheriff's Department estimates it will need 15 more employees by 2004. The department has added 32 employees since 1996.

Sheriff Charles F. Mades said the number of calls to which his deputies respond increases each year. He said the public demands increased attention to crime.

"They want the bad guys off the street. They want them locked up," said. "That's our job."

Mades said four deputies have completed field training in the last two months. The commissioners authorized an additional eight deputies being July 1, but Mades said it will be almost a year before they actually hit the streets.

Another area of strain has been the Washington County Detention Center, which is bursting at the seams.

The department projects a need for 108 employees at the jail by 2004, up from 79 in 1996.

Mades said the jail, which is off Western Maryland Parkway, has been averaging about 360 inmates in recent months. At times, it has registered highs of 430 inmates.

The jail has grown so crowded that bars have been placed on windows in the drug treatment area to house more inmates, Mades said.

"If the next five years are anything like the last five, it's something the county is going to have to address," he said.

County Finance Director Debra Bastian, who helped prepare the report, said officials tried to keep growth down in other areas of government. Most of the public safety increases are unavoidable, she said.

Rising police costs also have affected the Washington County State's Attorney's Office.

The County Commissioners budgeted three more positions for this year. It is projected that the number of employees will increase from 26 this year to 32 in 2004.

"Increased police will bring increased arrests. Increased arrests will bring more prosecution," said Washington County State's Attorney M. Kenneth Long Jr.

While there likely will be a need for more attorneys in the prosecutor's office, Long said how many cannot be determined with accuracy.

"It's really just rough planning," he said. "Just because those are the projections doesn't mean that's what we'll go to."

Those determinations must be made each year by the commissioners.

The planning document, which makes no attempt to reconcile spending estimates with revenue projections, shows shortfalls ranging from $2.8 million to $6.9 million.

By the time department heads submit actual requests next year, Bastian predicted the shortfalls would run between $10 million and $15 million as they usually do.

"They always request more," she said.

The strategic plan shows the county intends to continue funding the water and sewer budgets with money from the general fund.

The document projects spending $250,000 per year from 2000 to 2003 and $300,000 in 2004. The sewer fund will use $2.05 million per year from the general fund from 2000 to 2003 and $2 million in 2004.

The document anticipates revenues from the Conococheague Pretreatment Facility will more than double from this year to 2004.

The plant has been losing money, but county officials hope to attract more customers to the facility through aggressive marketing efforts.

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