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Washington County departments asked to hold the line on budget requests

November 30, 1999|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY ? Anticipating a tight budget year that could include further cuts in state funding, Washington County Administrator Gregory B. Murray on Friday asked county department heads not to increase their budget requests from last year.

In a letter that was distributed with the county's operating budget guides for fiscal year 2009, Murray cited "reductions in funding sources, as well as inflationary costs" in asking department heads not to request more money than they did last year.

"It is expected that this year's budget requests will reflect flat funding for the majority of line items," the letter stated.

Increases are expected in certain budget categories, such as fuel and electric costs. However, all requests for increases will require "full justification" to be granted, the letter reads.

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The letter comes one month after the Maryland General Assembly trimmed $9 million in state funding to Washington County during a special session convened to resolve the state's structural deficit.

The General Assembly is expected to cut more local funding when it meets for its regular session in January.

Washington County Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray said the county has known "for years" about the state's deficit. Last year, the county commissioners approved a transfer of $8 million in state funds to county reserves to help offset the effects of state cuts on the county.

However, officials say rising fuel costs and a depressed housing market have combined with state funding cuts to make budget preparations for fiscal year 2009, which begins in July, particularly difficult.

"There are a lot of pressures on the FY09 budget," Gregory Murray said. "As long as there is a reasonable amount of redirected expectation on who's paying for what, the county will be OK. But if the county has to absorb $20 million more in cuts, that could change things."

Debra Murray, who is married to Gregory Murray but does not report to him, has said she does not think taxes will have to be raised to pay for shortfalls in the fiscal year 2009 budget. She said the county has about $30 million in cash reserves.

Gregory Murray said the county "would have to look at" cutting programs before raising taxes.

County department heads have not been asked to hold the line on their budgets for several years.

Last year's operating budget, at $309 million, was 2 percent higher than the previous year.

"Keeping funding flat is not easy. I think there's the expectation that, even as managers, we will get inflationary money, and that's not always the case," Gregory Murray said.

Budget requests from department heads are due Jan. 18, 2008. The county commissioners will consider those requests through May, when they will hold a public hearing before approving the county's operating budget in June 2008.

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