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Commissioners balance county budget

April 13, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Commissioners balanced the fiscal 2000 budget Tuesday by slicing about $1.9 million out of the Washington County Board of Education budget request and making other smaller cuts.

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The County Commissioners informally adopted the balanced budget after about two hours of discussion. Commissioner Paul L. Swartz was absent for health reasons.

The commissioners are scheduled to officially adopt the budget May 4 following an April 27 public hearing.

The School Board requested a $6.4 million increase in operating costs this fiscal year, an 11.8 percent increase over the current year. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The commissioners decided instead to give the School Board a $4.5 million increase, or about 8.1 percent more.

The commissioners did not act on a prior suggestion by Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger to consider increasing the property tax rate to help balance the budget. Swartz was the only other commissioner expressing support for a tax hike.

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School Board members could not be reached for comment because they were out of town. They have said the budget does not contain any fluff.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. did not return phone calls Tuesday.

While he expects School Board members to disagree, cutting the School Board budget was fair and necessary, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said after the meeting.

"Based upon the commissioners' decision not to raise taxes there were really no other alternatives. We cut all the other departments to bare bones," Snook said.

In a separate budget item, the commissioners gave the school health budget $115,785 less than requested, delaying the creation of two new positions.

The School Board asked for $61.6 million from the county for operating costs. About 60 percent of the county's general fund budget goes to the School Board.

At an April 8 workshop the commissioners considered cutting $2.8 million out of the School Board budget, reducing a projected shortfall of more than $3.3 million to about $500,000.

The county had an estimated $7 million more to spend than in the current budget, but the commissioners received $10.3 million in requests for funding increases, even after some earlier cuts.

While Swartz missed the meeting, he said at the April 8 meeting he was convinced there was enough "fluff" in the School Board budget for it to withstand more than $1.6 million in cuts. Swartz worked for the district for about 36 years but did not work directly with budgets.

The commissioners decided to pay for $544,900 in one-time expenses out of an expected fiscal 1999 budget surplus rather than from the general fund.

Other last-minute budget changes included:

- Reducing a grant to the Washington County Water and Sewer Department's pretreatment fund from $500,000 to $350,000. The grant is money the county does not expect to be returned.

The budget also includes a $1.95 million grant to the sewer fund and $350,000 to the water fund. The County Commissioners have given the department's three funds $9.2 million in general fund grants since it took over the Washington County Sanitary Commission in 1995.

- Cutting $275,621 out of the Health Department operating budget. The department would instead use $116,000 out of its fiscal 1999 surplus to pay for new vehicles and try to raise about $60,000 with fee increases.

- Reducing by $300,000 the appropriation to the capital improvement program.

- Increasing the Washington County Commuter budget by $11,000 rather than a requested $41,000 increase. Without the requested increase, due to cuts in state and federal funding, the transit service probably will have to cut one route and one driver, according to County Administrator Rodney Shoop.

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