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Budget cutbacks may hurt agencies

February 05, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Washington County nonprofit groups might be shut out of the state budget for the second year in a row, which would force some to delay or scale back their building projects.

"We'll just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best," said Maureen Grove, executive director of Girls Inc. of Hagerstown.

Without the $200,000 state grant, Girls Inc. might have to build a smaller gym at its Washington Avenue center and forego participating in volleyball and basketball leagues, she said. The other option would be to delay the project for yet another year.

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The Boys and Girls Club of Washington County would have to put off building a multipurpose center at Noland Village public housing project, said Operations Director Buck Browning. The club is seeking $100,000.

"Every year we wait that's more kids being introduced to the dangers of society's ills," he said.

The American Red Cross of Washington County will break ground soon on a new headquarters building off Eastern Boulevard, said Administrative Assistant Bobbi Schnebly.

If the $250,000 doesn't come through, the nonprofit will have to raise more money, she said.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich put $15 million in his budget for the statewide bond bill program, through which the state borrows money and grants it to nonprofits.

Citing budget woes, the Senate cut the grants last year after many of the groups had already visited Annapolis, a move that upset some members of the House of Delegates.

"There's a little bit of pride on the line. They don't want to be dictated to," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel.

As a consolation, the Senate promised to give the community groups special consideration in this year's $740 million capital budget.

But Senate leaders want to put the money toward school construction instead. Right now, there's only enough money to pay for one-third of the requests, according to a memo from Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie, D-Prince George's.

Earmarking the money for schools would not help the Washington County Public Schools system, which is set to receive $1.8 million to renovate Salem Avenue Elementary. The school system is merely seeking planning approval for a new elementary school in Maugansville, which does not cost the state anything.

House leaders said they will try to convince the Senate to change its mind without hurting school construction.

"We expect (the Senate) to live up to the agreement," said Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Eastern Shore.

Busch said bond bill projects are a good investment for the state because they put people to work. They are only wasteful if the nonprofits have not raised sufficient matching money and the projects don't get completed in a timely manner.

Washington County lawmakers did not want to raise the hopes of local nonprofits, pointing out that this year's budget woes are worse than last year.

"The fact is there is precious little money and bond bills are kind of like an added expense on top of everything else," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said the money serves a valuable purpose but he doesn't know if the state can afford it this year.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Allegany/Washington, declined to comment citing a conflict of interest. His company, Myers Building Systems Inc. of Clear Spring, has been awarded the bid to do the Red Cross work for $1.5 million.

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