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letters to the editor - 5/6/02

May 06, 2002

Carol Moller:

How I'd trim city budget

To the editor:

It has been almost a year since we began to serve on the Hagerstown City Council, and for at least four of us, it has been a learning experience.

Fortunately, we are all served by a highly qualified, professional city staff which is always available to keep us current with all problems and projects. I can say that I have read the budget from cover to cover and, despite being overwhelmed by it, I will sort out my thoughts.

We are looking at decreased revenues and higher expenses. First and foremost, we must make our employees whole. They, too, are facing added expenses and are entitled to get at the very least a modest increase in their wages.

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Insurance and medical benefits are always on the rise and the city is working to improve coverage and offer some savings to the employees. The city pays more than $824,270 in full insurance coverage for retirees. Perhaps retirees could share some cost of dependent coverage?

At the moment, we do not have the tax revenues that we would like, but we are hopeful that with annexation and new development to come, we will be able to keep taxes down in the years to come. For the present, we must attempt to bring in more revenues and reduce some major capital expenses. I submit the following:

1. We must sign the Water Sewer Agreement with the County and work on the tax differential. Both will mean a substantial savings to us.

2. We must work with each city department to see what they are willing to give up in their individual budgets.

3. Increase service charges in planning, engineering and inspections, and economic development departments. Our fees are very low.

4. Work on retaining the money from speeding tickets. We get none of it now and it should stay here.

5. Our parks and playgrounds are among our biggest assets and there are many projects scheduled for their improvements. The Fairgrounds alone will need considerable money for the Grandstand, Gate House, sheds and Police Athletic League. Also there will be more labor required for the upkeep of all the ball fields.

City Park is scheduled for more walk paths and lake wall restoration. Both are big-ticket items and will require priority in spending.

6. We cannot do without our Police and Fire Departments. They serve us 24 hours a day. Yes, the police have many expenses, and who of us can decide what they can do without and not compromise service. We trust them to do what they can to save some expenses. We cannot in any way compromise the safety of our citizens.

7. There are many streets and alleys to pave, sidewalks to repair and make accessible to the handicapped.

8. We cannot neglect those among us who are less fortunate: Community Action Council, Reach, Parent/Child Center, CASA, Washington County Food Resources (food to the needy), Senior Living Alternatives, Community Free Clinic, Adult Care and Drug/Crime Prevention, home ownership, and counseling to encourage home ownership (Hagerstown Home Store).

We will diligently address all options to reduce the budget. Our goals, like all of you, is to make Hagerstown the best place to live.

Carol Moller

Member

Hagerstown City Council




County withholds schools' fair share

To the editor:

The elected members of the Washington County Board of Education are committed to improving communication with all stakeholders and educating the public about important educational issues.

This year the state legislature passed significant legislation designed to improve the adequacy of funding for public education and to address the funding inequities that exist between counties.

Although all schools in the state are held to the same high standards, the funds available to school systems vary greatly depending on the affluence and the priorities of the local funding source.

To address the inequities in local funding and to level the educational playing field, the state issued disparity grants to the 8 poorest counties. Washington County received $896,000 in disparity funding.

Only Baltimore City and Prince George's County received more. Additionally, Washington County received approximately $1.4 million from the state to meet the educational needs of our students.

The state expects that these additional funds will enable poor school systems to provide equal access to critically needed and innovative programs that wealthier counties offer.

Unfortunately for the students of Washington County, the County Commissioners feel that the additional state funds can make up for the local funding that they are unwilling to commit to education.

This is discouraging for educational advocates, particularly since the BOE, recognizing the financial climate, requested the smallest increase in 10 years.

The success of the future depends on our ability to meet the educational needs of the present. Every citizen should advocate for a fully funded education budget.

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