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Four county projects denied state funding

April 03, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Four Washington County projects - a museum, library, veterans home and battlefield - have been denied state funding this year.

Washington County lawmakers had asked Gov. Parris Glendening for help with a national Civil War museum in Hagerstown, a new library in Clear Spring, a nursing home for veterans in Hagerstown and the South Mountain Battlefield.

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But none appeared in the final $181.3 million of additions to Glendening's budget, which were announced over the weekend.

Instead, Glendening added $2.7 million for improvements to state-owned facilities in the county because those bids came in higher than expected.

While Glendening's spokesman Michael Morrill said Washington County did relatively well, local lawmakers thought the county didn't get its fair share.

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"It's very disappointing because when he took his oath he said he would show no partiality," said Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

The two Democrats in the local legislative delegation partly blamed Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, for angering the governor last month.

Munson supported a new site selection study for the University of Maryland's Hagerstown center downtown, but retracted when Glendening threatened to revoke construction funding.

"The resident senator enraged the governor and I think we're paying the consequences," said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, agreed.

But Munson called their accusation "a cheap shot."

"I think the governor is a bigger man than that. The House members might just be looking for a scapegoat," Munson said.

The university is slated to get $697,000 for planning the university center in the 2001 budget year. Construction money is to come the following year.

In weighing which projects to add to the budget, Glendening considered whether lawmakers supported his legislative proposals, Morrill said.

For the most part, Washington County lawmakers voted against the governor's initiatives, including mandatory gun locks and expansion of the state's prevailing wage law.

Glendening, who has ultimate control over the budget because legislators can only cut from it and not add to it, said last week that he would use that power to leverage votes for his gun control legislation.

Representatives from Montgomery County, Prince George's County and Baltimore City were crucial in passing the gun control bill out of the House Judiciary Committee on Friday night. No local lawmakers are members of that committee.

When Glendening announced the budget additions Saturday, those three counties got about $40 million of the additional $95.8 million in proposed additional capital spending.

"From those numbers it's rather clear what the governor's priorities are," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington. "My vote is not for sale. This is not 'Let's Make a Deal.'"

At least one of the projects being funded is an inappropriate use of taxpayers' money, Shank said, referring to $1 million to help Baltimore County condemn houses in the Middle River-Essex waterfront area.

Shank and Snodgrass voted against legislation to give Baltimore County the power to displace hundreds of people from their homes so the county can bring in an upscale development.

One Washington County project that was not funded, a Civil War museum in downtown Hagerstown, could be dead as a result of being passed over by the governor.

The nonprofit Antietam Creek Coalition was counting on $450,000 from the state to continue pursuing a Smithsonian Institution affiliation.

Hecht had said getting the state money was a long shot. Contributing to the rejection was a Herald-Mail story that reported that the Smithsonian only pairs with established museums, she said.

Hecht said she was especially disappointed about the lack of money for a veterans home in Hagerstown. That project cannot move forward without state money.

Hecht said she had been assured that the home would get $70,000 this year.

Likewise, Clear Spring residents were relying on a $100,000 state grant to help them build a community library.

When word reached Margaret Cornett Monday morning that there would be no money from the state for the new Clear Spring Library, she was stunned.

"This is a terrible blow," said Cornett, a retired schoolteacher who has been working on the project.

The community still needs $150,000 to build an 8,000-square-foot library near the school complex.

Losing the state money angered Clear Spring Mayor Paul Hose Jr.

"It bothers me. It's a shame that a little town can't get anything from the state. We do pay taxes too."

Local lawmakers were not too surprised that there was no money to develop or operate the South Mountain Battlefield this year.

Snodgrass said she will be happy if legislation to create the battlefield passes the Senate before the session ends April 10. The funding problem can be addressed later, she said.

Shank suggested the museum and the battlefield pursue hotel tax revenues through the Washington County Commissioners.

A bill to double the tax to raise money for tourism and the county's water and sewer debt has passed the House and will have a hearing today in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

The money that was added to the state budget for Washington County:

- $850,000 toward a central kitchen for the prison complex south of Hagerstown. The total cost is $8.3 million.

- $1.8 million toward a new high-tech fence around Maryland Correctional Training Center. Total cost of the fence is $6.3 million.

- $57,000 in planning money to replace the heating and air conditioning system at the Western Maryland Center in Hagerstown. It will cost $500,000 to plan the system this year and $5.1 million to install next year.

- Staff writer Marlo Barnhart contributed to this story.

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