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Hiking county tax rate now will benefit next generation

May 22, 2000

The Washington County Commissioners will hold their annual hearing on the budget tonight at 7 at the Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College. A good-sized crowd is expected, because the county board has proposed increasing income and property taxes.

Nobody we know likes paying taxes, but we would ask those who speak in opposition to these proposed hikes to answer one question: What part of this budget shouldn't be funded?

Should it be the law-enforcement budget, when the jail population is increasing and other jurisdictions are trying to recruit experienced police personnel? Should it be the health-department budget, at a time when welfare reform has put an increasing number of people to work in jobs without employer-provided medical benefits?

The new stadium is an obvious target, but the county's contribution to that will come from an increase in the hotel/motel room tax and a juggling of the funds distributed by the Washington County Gaming Commission.

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That leaves the school board, which gets the lion's share of local tax money every year. Under the proposal to be heard tonight, schools would get $64.6 million of the $121.4 million county budget. That's a $1.6 million less than educators requested, but it's still $4.3 million in new money.

School officials say that's not enough, but given the political realities and risks of raising taxes, full funding of the school budget was not an option this year, in part because the school board didn't sell the idea to the public.

But what's proposed seems equitable to us, for several reasons. After an audit by an outside agency, the school system put together a strategic plan and test scores have begun inching upward. A recent proposal to consolidate schools to save cash has merit, but will probably take five years to implement.

During that time, the veteran teacher corps that's held the system together will begin retiring. Without continued improvement in the salary scale, the best and brightest education-school graduates will go elsewhere. Citizens are being asked to accept an increase now so the next generation of students can have a better life. In our view, it's not too much to ask.

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