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Cuts, weather shrink county highway budget

February 26, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County highway officials said Tuesday they have slashed more than $1.1 million from the department's proposed fiscal year 2004 budget to help make up for $2.3 million in state cuts.

The budget also takes $700,000 from reserves and $513,532 from county capital improvement money to cover the shortfall.

Highway Director Ted Wolford told the Washington County Commissioners that the department's fleet management fund took the brunt of the cuts, with $641,056 being shaved from the account.

Wolford submitted a $6.4 million proposed budget to the county for fiscal year 2004, down from the $7.5 million budget that had been planned.

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The fleet management fund pays for items such as fuel, auto repairs, fleet insurance and vehicle supplies and equipment.

"This is not good. This is devastating to the highway department's ability to operate," County Administrator Rodney Shoop said of the forced cuts. "It hurts a lot."

Fleet Manager Jack Reynard said it will take the department two to four years to recover from the cuts.

The department also cut $285,460 from general operations, $122,390 from road maintenance and $40,625 from snow removal accounts.

The state made the $2.3 million in cuts to the department by slashing highway user fees, which are given to local jurisdictions each year.

The state cuts came in an effort to increase education funding, officials have said.

Highway user fees are generated by state gasoline and motor vehicle taxes. That money is then distributed to local jurisdictions.

In addition to the state cuts, the highway department has faced steep costs this year because of harsh winter weather.

Officials said last week the county has spent at least $600,000 more than the $500,000 that was budgeted for snow-related costs this year.

The storm that dropped 23.3 inches of snow in the Hagerstown area two weeks ago cost the county's highway department at least $200,000.

Director of Public Works Gary Rohrer said Tuesday more expenses are likely this spring, as a result of poor road conditions caused by all the snowstorms.

"We'll see a lot of blowouts with roadways," Rohrer said. "That's something that's going to be a bigger impact this spring..."

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