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Education tops the agenda at State of the County address

February 06, 2001|By JULIE E. GREENE

Education tops the agenda at State of the County address



The Washington County Commissioners reviewed past accomplishments and reiterated future goals focused on public education and land use at Tuesday's State of the County address.

"While we would be very proud of our accomplishments, we should not be complacent," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said during his Tuesday morning address at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel on Dual Highway.

More than 150 civic and business leaders attended the breakfast event sponsored by Allfirst and hosted by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

After Snook reviewed the county's contribution to public education, the upcoming update of the county's comprehensive plan and the county's duty to fiscal responsibility, the commissioners took questions from the audience.

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When asked about the county's funding for education, Commissioner William Wivell said the commissioners are starting to look at ways to fund education other than raising taxes.

That could include consolidating schools and seeking joint insurance bids to save possibly $250,000 a year in administrative costs, Wivell said.

Commissioner Bert Iseminger said the commissioners also need to plan to spend more for teachers' salaries as the county faces 400 to 600 teacher retirements in the coming years.

"We've got to increase salaries to make Washington County competitive with other counties," Iseminger said.

The county will need about $3 million to $4 million to meet the requirements for the governor's Challenge Grant for teachers' salaries for fiscal 2002, Iseminger and Wivell said. Through the grant a local jurisdiction that funds a 4 percent increase for teachers' salaries is eligible for an additional 1 percent from the state.

With the exception of the Challenge Grant, the state's contribution toward public education in Washington County increased by less than $150,000 from fiscal 2000 to fiscal 2001, Wivell said. The state contributed about $750,000 for teachers' salaries, he said.

This fiscal year the county budgeted $70.4 million in the general fund for public education, of which almost $66 million was for the Washington County Board of Education, according to the county budget. The total general fund this year is $121.7 million.

Snook said the county's proposed comprehensive plan is almost ready for the public.

The public will get to comment on the plan during meetings to be held this spring and summer, Snook said.

As for fiscal responsibility, the county continues to exceed the target for its general fund cash reserve with approximately $9 million, Snook said.

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