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Capital improvement plan likely to face budget cuts

March 11, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Three Washington County Commissioners said Monday they anticipate cuts to the proposed $45.8 million fiscal year 2004 capital improvement plan, which might put several construction projects in jeopardy.

"Everything is subject to scrutiny," Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said.

The capital plan lists a variety of projects, including $750,000 in renovations to the Washington County Courthouse, $25.1 million for projects at Hagerstown Regional Airport and $150,000 to start design work on a $15.9 million emergency communications system.

The proposed plan also sets aside $5 million in construction money for the Washington County Board of Education for fiscal year 2004. The School Board has requested that that amount be increased by $900,000 to $5.9 million.

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Wivell and Commissioner John C. Munson called the request for an increase unrealistic in a tight budget year.

"If we had tons and tons of money, it might be OK," Munson said.

The County Commissioners said they objected to the amount of money county staff members recommended borrowing for the proposed projects. Under the proposed capital plan, the county would borrow $12 million for fiscal year 2004.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the commissioners directed staff to reduce the amount of borrowing to $8 million or $10 million.

"Some of the staff don't agree with us, but you have to do what you have to do," Munson said.

Wivell said he would like borrowing for the proposed capital plan to be less than $10 million, while Munson said he didn't favor any borrowing.

"I'm certainly not in favor of going in debt any more to do any (capital plan) or anything else," Munson said. "We should hold the line without borrowing any more."

Snook said money generated from a transfer or excise tax might reduce the amount of borrowing needed to pay for the proposed projects, but he did not know how much the taxes would generate.

The county is waiting for approval from the state for the power to impose those two taxes.

Snook said he wasn't sure whether the county would enact both taxes.

"My guess is the commissioners are looking to do something, but we don't know what level yet," he said.

The commissioners said they would prioritize the proposed projects and then make the necessary cuts.

Wivell, for example, said he would like the creation of a central booking facility for area police agencies included in the capital plan. He said one of the proposed projects for next year, $310,500 for repairs to a dam at Devil's Backbone Park, could be put off for a few years.

"I wouldn't say that's a life or death situation, unless you're a fish," Wivell said.

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