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Budget proposal cuts county funds

January 22, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners found out Friday they're facing nearly $5 million in state funding cuts under Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich's proposed 2004 state budget.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop said Tuesday the county would be forced to pare its operating budget if the proposed state cuts stand or are increased.

Commissioner John C. Munson said it's likely the county would have to reduce its work force to make up for the state cuts.

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"I think we'll have to cut a lot of people," Munson said. "We don't want to raise taxes, so what do you have left?"

The county operates on a budget of about $130 million.

Ehrlich unveiled his proposed $22.9 billion budget on Friday. It would allocate $91.1 million to Washington County and would include a $6.7 million increase in state funding for local public education, officials said.

The proposed $91.1 million is $2.5 million more than the $88.6 million the county received for this year because of the increase in education funding.

Educators might be pleased with the proposed increase to local school funding, but Ehrlich takes money from the county's highway department budget to fund that increase.

Shoop said the cuts to the highway department total more than $3 million, or about 46 percent of that department's budget for next year.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said the county would have to use general fund money to make up for the reduction in state highway department funding.

"It's going to create a lot of problems for us. It's pretty substantial," Wivell said. "I don't know we can absorb that much of a cut."

Wivell said it was too early to tell whether staff cuts would have to be made.

The county also learned Friday that Ehrlich planned to severely reduce the amount of disparity grant funding the county receives by almost $1.65 million in fiscal year 2004, decreasing it from $1.9 million to $251,000.

Of that $1.9 million, $876,584 went to Washington County Public Schools for this fiscal year.

Disparity money is given to poorer counties where per capita income tax revenues are less than 75 percent of the statewide average.

If the disparity grant and highway department cuts remain in the budget, it would mean a nearly $5 million shortfall for the county.

"I would think ... that these numbers are large for our county, and we certainly would have to make adjustments somewhere," Shoop said.

Munson said he thinks more state cuts are on the way, which would force the county to make additional cuts to its budget.

"I really don't think the state is done cutting yet," he said. "We may have to do some things this year that we don't want to do."

Members of the Washington County delegation to the General Assembly said Friday that Ehrlich's proposed budget makes up a $1.3 billion shortfall that was projected for fiscal year 2004 without raising taxes or laying off school employees.

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