County budget balanced but Board of Ed. request pared

April 16, 2003|by TARA REILLY

The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday preliminarily balanced the budget for the coming fiscal year without raising taxes by slashing $3.8 million from the Board of Education's budget request.

The county's proposed $138.6 million budget for fiscal year 2004 is $4.9 million more than the current budget of $133.7 million.

The spending plan includes $74.6 million for the School Board. That amount is $2.9 million - or 4 percent - more than the county's contribution of $71.7 million for the current fiscal year.


The School Board had asked for $78.4 million, saying the additional money was needed to meet new federal mandates of the No Child Left Behind act, according to the county.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop said the proposed budget indicates public education is "a high priority for the County Commissioners."

He said the budget calls for 66 percent of the county's $4.9 million in new revenue to go to the School Board. That revenue mainly is generated by income and property taxes.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said she thinks the commissioners tried their best to meet the needs of the school system.

"Do we need more? Yes. Did they try hard to give us the most that they could? I believe so, yes," Morgan said. "Just because we have these needs doesn't mean the County Commissioners can meet them."

The commissioners will take the proposed budget to a public hearing on May 6 at 7 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

School Board President Bernadette Wagner said she expected the school system to receive a larger increase from the county.

"My feeling is that it's not adequate for the needs of our students nor for the professional needs required by the law to support our teachers," Wagner said after the commissioners' meeting.

"We really did look at the needs of the school system," County Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said.

Nipps said that while the budget proposes that the School Board receive a 4 percent increase over current fiscal year funding, several other county departments and nonprofit groups would not receive budget increases.

School Board member Paul Bailey said it was too early to comment on the county's proposed budget, but said it would be difficult for the school system to deal with a shortfall.

School officials told the commissioners on Tuesday that their budget problems could increase, because the school system might receive less money from the state than expected.

The School Board had asked the county for a $7.9 million increase over the county's current fiscal year contribution. Not counted in that amount but also requested by the School Board was money for the Judy Center, crossing guards and one-time expenses.

The proposed county contribution includes Judy Center and crossing guard expenses, as well as money for one-time costs.

While the School Board does not factor those expenses in its new money request, the county does, according to the county budget.

The county's proposed budget also includes:

  • $13.2 million for the Washington County Sheriff's Department, an increase of nearly $700,000 over the current year contribution of $12.5 million. The sheriff's department had asked for about an $800,000 increase.

  • $4.9 million for Hagerstown Community College, an increase of $189,491 over the current year contribution of $4.73 million. HCC had asked for $659 less than the county's proposed contribution.

  • Two percent increases for the county's approximately 630 full-time employees.

  • $75.2 million in revenue from property taxes, which is $3.5 million more than the current fiscal year's $71.7 million revenue from property taxes.

  • $50.1 million in revenue from income taxes, which is $1.8 million more than the current year's income tax revenue of $48.3 million.

Shoop said the commissioners probably will vote on the proposed budget on May 13.

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