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County budget set to go before public

April 24, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

After some last-minute tinkering, the Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to present a $133.9 million spending plan to the public.

County residents can comment on the proposed fiscal year 2003 budget before the commissioners vote on it. A public hearing will be held May 7.

Spending in the proposed general fund budget is about 3.5 percent higher than it was this year. There is no plan to increase the property tax rate.

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About $72.6 million - more than half of the budget - would cover Washington County Board of Education expenses.

At Tuesday's meeting of the county commissioners, Budget and Finance Director Debra Bastian said that an $83,000 shortfall in the proposed county budget was eliminated, but a new gap, twice as big, appeared Monday.

Bastian said she found out Monday afternoon that $11.4 million worth of land owned by Allegheny Energy was reclassified from personal property to real estate. The real estate category carries a much lower tax rate, so the change created a $162,000 shortfall, Bastian said.

The commissioners responded by adding $130,000 to projected revenue in the budget plan, in anticipation of a land sale.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop said the county is selling a house and land off Landis Road.

The county bought the land from the Noland family to create a stormwater management system, but the family is buying it back, Shoop said.

The rest of the shortfall was eliminated by raising the estimated real estate tax revenue.

The Board of Education would receive $70.1 million for operating expenses under the proposed budget. That's an increase over the $68.3 million the school board received for the current fiscal year, but less than the $74.1 million the school board requested for next fiscal year.

Another $448,000 would pay for eight school buses.

The proposed county budget includes $13.5 million for county operations, $12.5 million for public safety and $5.4 million for state and federal programs, such as the health department and the state's attorney's office.

Previously, the commissioners cut 3 percent of the funding for nonprofit groups.

Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger on Tuesday suggested restoring the money. Commissioner Paul L. Swartz agreed, but none of the other commissioners did.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said the commissioners should stick to their decision despite "a couple yelps" of protest.

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