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Projects added to 2000 budget plan considered

March 24, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday considered an additional $2 million worth of projects that were added to the proposed fiscal year 2000 capital budget.

The proposals drew fire from Commissioner William J. Wivell, who argued the county is taking on more debt than it can afford.

The major additions include:

* An additional $550,000 to pay for the extension of Massey Boulevard from Halfway Boulevard to the relocated Cole Road. The additional money, which may be offset by federal funds, reflect a more accurate cost estimate.

* $750,000 for a storm water management pond at Hagerstown Regional Airport, to be financed with surplus money, if available.

* $200,000 to help pay for construction of a library in Clear Spring.

* $165,000 to help pay for the construction of a gymnasium in Hancock.

* $250,000 to help revitalize downtown Hagerstown. No project has been identified.

* $87,500 to complete seating for the Hagerstown Community College Amphitheater.

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* $35,000 for a culvert on Broadfording Road.

The commissioners informally agreed to change the financing on two projects. They agreed to seek Program Open Space funds to pay for the Hancock gym and the amphitheater seating.

That would reduce the borrowing by about $252,500 for fiscal year 2000, but it would be more than $1.7 million above the $10 million cap the commissioners set for themselves.

"I'm a little bit concerned about the borrowing, obviously," Wivell said.

In an interview, Wivell said he has not decided whether he will vote against the capital budget in May.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook suggested the financing change for the Hancock and amphitheater projects.

To pay for the changes, Snook proposed several revisions in the county's plans for Program Open Space money, which comes from a state grant.

He would use leftover money from last year and would eliminate $20,000 for exterior lighting to the Washington County Agricultural Education Center and $135,000 to develop North County Park.

Wivell questioned the need for some of the projects and suggested paying for others out of the general fund.

He said the Clear Spring library, for example, should be paid for out of the general fund.

Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger Jr. said the commissioners can remove the project at a later date. "The least we can do is plan for it," he said.

But Wivell said the borrowing increases the county's debt. "We're borrowing money to borrow money," he said.

Iseminger argued that borrowing money for the library would only cost $45,000 a year in debt payments.

Wivell said any borrowing increases the county's fixed costs and decreases money available for public safety, education and other discretionary spending.

"When you continually borrow money, you're indebting this county to additional funding that we don't have," he said.

The commissioners decided they probably cannot meet the Washington County Board of Education's request to borrow $5 million a year for the next five years.

The commissioners have budgeted almost $2.6 million in capital funds for schools for fiscal year 2000.

Snook suggested the commissioners could increase the figure to $3.5 million in fiscal year 2001. Other commissioners said they wanted a more detailed spending plan from school officials.

The commissioners will consider the budget again on Thursday and will hold a public hearing on April 27. They could vote on the spending plan May. 4.

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