County seeks to increase borrowing rights

January 29, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The Washington County Commissioners want more borrowing power from the state.

The Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly agreed Wednesday to seek legislation that would allow the county to borrow money both the short term and long term.

One request would allow the county to get a line of credit of up to $5 million, if needed, to use in tight cash-flow situations.

Having the line of credit would prevent the county from being caught strapped for cash.

That happened in 1995, when a large bill was due to the Washington County Board of Education but tax revenue had not yet arrived in the county coffers, said County Administrator Rodney Shoop.


"We were at that time basically out of money," Shoop said.

Since then, the county has built up a $5 million reserve. A short-term line of credit would give the county even more financial flexibility in leaner years, Shoop said.

"We would hopefully never have to use it," Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said.

A second request would allow the county to borrow up to $50 million over the next four years to finance construction of schools, a landfill and other capital improvements.

Four years ago, the county asked for $40 million in long-term borrowing over four years. The county actually borrowed $28 million.

The county is nearly tapped out now with debt.

The debt is at about 10 percent of the county's total budget, which is the commissioners' ideal ceiling, Iseminger said.

But there may be several "big-ticket" items in the county's future, such as school renovations and additions, a landfill and the county's share of payment for a local campus of the University of Maryland.

The Washington County Board of Education has asked for nearly $20 million for schools over the next five years.

Gov. Parris Glendening has called for $1 billion for school construction over the next four years, but counties must be able to provide matching shares.

"We want to be in a position to take advantage," Iseminger said.

Although the borrowing may increase the county's debt to 12 percent of the budget, financial projections show it will peak there and drop dramatically after that, Iseminger said.

"That is a major concern for us," Shoop said.

"We're watching it just as closely as you are," Iseminger said.

The county incurred a lot of debt when it took over the old Washington County Sanitary District and created the Water and Sewer Department in 1995.

The water and sewer debt, which started at $54 million, now is at $43 million, Shoop said.

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