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Local lawmakers hear residents' concerns

December 11, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

Washington County lawmakers met with the public Saturday at South Hagerstown High School to hear community input before the start next month of the 2000 Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, led a panel which included: Senators Donald F. Munson, R-Washington and Alexander X. Mooney, R-Washington/Frederick; and Delegates Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington; John P. Donoghue, D-Washington; Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Washington/Frederick; and Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Washington/Frederick.

"We're not mind readers down there and it really helps to hear your feedback," Shank told the audience of about 20 people.

The panel listened to public concerns on issues ranging from transitional mental health care for children to the proposed room tax increase.

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Ray S. Linebaugh, secretary of the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County, asked lawmakers to support a $100,000 study to determine the feasibility of an in-county veteran's home.

"The need for this veteran's home is to take care of the needs of our veterans who are sleeping out on our streets," Linebaugh said.

John Budesky, director of the Local Management Board and the Office for Children and Youth, asked lawmakers to consider funding and policy changes to provide mental health care for young patients after they leave residential care facilities and before they return home.

Such care isn't covered by most insurance, Budesky said.

Officials in the state Mental Health Administration made funding promises last year that weren't kept, said Budesky and Wallace Rutledge, chair of the Washington County Mental Health Advisory Committee.

"That's the policy in the state of Maryland - 'We don't care,'" Rutledge told the lawmakers, who asked him to submit copies of documentation so they could arrange a meeting with Mental Health Administration officials.

MiHi, Inc. Executive Director Bill Beard asked lawmakers to change the "restrictive wording" on a bill which provides funding for recreational equipment for people with disabilities.

Steve Berger, a state employees' union representative and veteran correctional officer at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, spoke to lawmakers about problems with understaffing and overtime pay at the prison complex south of Hagerstown.

"I know everything's driven by money, but public safety has got to be the number one priority," Berger said.

He said state funding is available but funneled mostly into correctional facilities in the Baltimore area.

Beaver Creek House Bed and Breakfast owner Don Day said he opposed the county's proposed increase in the hotel/motel room tax from the current three percent to five percent.

It's important to support tourism, but the financial burden should be shouldered by the entire community, not just lodge owners, Day said.

Hagerstown resident Roy Funk spoke out against taxpayers having little say in where their money is spent, including on such proposed downtown projects as a new stadium and University of Maryland campus.

"The taxpayers are not being represented," Funk said. "We're being dictated to."

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