County would get less in proposed budget

January 24, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich has earmarked $11.1 million for building projects in Washington County next year, one-third of what the county received when state coffers were flush with money.

In his first capital budget as governor, Ehrlich proposes spending $987 million in the 2004 budget year, down from $1.5 billion in 2002.

Ehrlich said his budget reflects his priorities of education, public safety and the environment.

He said he's making the first attempt in a decade to address prison overcrowding by building 396 new beds in Cumberland and on the Eastern Shore. The state houses about 24,000 inmates in prisons built for 13,500.


His budget calls for no new beds at the prison complex south of Hagerstown. The only local prison project is $393,000 to repair a water tower at the Maryland Correctional Institution.

Ehrlich's proposed $102 million for school construction statewide represents less than half of what his predecessor Gov. Parris Glendening set aside each year of his eight-year administration.

Ehrlich said the previous administration's budgets grew faster than the economy and now state spending must be curtailed.

"The problem is the Golden Age ceases to exist and the bill comes due," Ehrlich said.

Despite the budget problems, Ehrlich said he was not willing to raise income taxes or sales taxes.

Given that his slot machine proposal has received a lukewarm reception in the legislature so far, Ehrlich said he would consider other suggestions for raising money on a case-by-case basis but he does not want to burden taxpayers.

"The politics of 'yes' leads you to structural deficits. We're not going to look to the taxpayers of the state," he said.

Democrats in the legislature have proposed raising liquor taxes and closing corporate loopholes to help relieve the budget woes.

Ehrlich had to deal with a $1.8 billion budget deficit over the next 18 months in addition to paring down the capital budget to shift more money for operating expenses.

Despite the budget squeeze, Ehrlich set aside $15 million for grants to nonprofits across the state. Doled out through the legislative bond bill program, the grants were cut by the state Senate last year.

In Washington County, the largest single project in Ehrlich's capital spending plan is $2.7 million for the Hagerstown Housing Authority's HOPE VI project.

Housing Authority Executive Director Ted Shankle said the money is crucial in leveraging federal grants for the $73.5 million Gateway Crossing project in the city's West End.

The state Interagency on School Construction has already approved $1.8 million for the renovation of Salem Avenue Elementary School.

The University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center is slated to receive $1.25 million for equipment when renovations to the Baldwin House complex are finished.

Maryland State Police would get $985,000 to plan for a new barrack and garage under the spending plan.

Hagerstown Community College would get $649,000 to renovate its Career Programs building and replace five roofs.

Fort Frederick State Park, which is gearing up for the fort's 250th anniversary in 2006, would get $140,000 to research and design the reconstruction of the former Officers' Quarters.

"Hopefully we'll receive the money. We'd like to do it for the anniversary and to leave a legacy for the citizens," said Park Manager Ralph Young.

Turning Point of Washington County would get $350,000 to help the agency buy and renovate an apartment building for low-income people with serious mental illnesses.

Executive Director Peter Shubiak said the residents would be able to live on their own, with assistance from the agency when needed.

San Mar Children's Home is slated to get $400,000 toward a temporary shelter for girls in the state Juvenile Justice system.

But Executive Director Bruce Anderson was surprised because he thought the project was off the table. It had been in the budget two years ago but was never completed. Now the agency's board of directors might not want to follow through, he said.

Other budget highlights include:

  • $612,000 for a water treatment system in Clear Spring.

  • $580,000 to construct a water system in Pen Mar.

  • $511,000 for Program Open Space grants.

  • $253,000 for boilers at Northern Middle School.

  • $250,000 for enhanced nutrient removal at the Hagerstown Wastewater Treatment Plant.

  • $150,000 to rehabilitate the Funkstown Wastewater System.

  • $76,000 for Rolling Hills Sewage collection and conveyance.

  • $50,000 for improvements to the Boonsboro Wastewater Treatment Plant.

All the projects must still survive any cuts made by the Maryland General Assembly.

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