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Agencies were ready for aid cuts

August 01, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Because of state budget cuts, the Washington County Health Department won't be able to launch a public awareness campaign on prostate cancer this year.

That doesn't make Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel happy, especially since he was diagnosed with the disease in April, albeit with a good prognosis.

But Christoffel and representatives from other government agencies said they mostly were prepared for the $208 million in cuts approved Wednesday by the Maryland Board of Public Works.

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"Overall, the cuts to local health departments aren't anything we can't live with," Christoffel said.

Washington County was spared from cuts to drug and alcohol abuse programs that hit other parts of the state, he said.

The local health department is slated to take a $90,000 cut to its Cigarette Restitution Fund grant, which has been used to educate the public about the importance of early screening for colon, cervical and breast cancers.

But another $55,900 in cuts slated for the agency may not materialize if the health department is able to get more money from the federal Medicaid program as it's planning to do, he said.

Statewide, the budget reduction plan proposed by Gov. Robert Ehrlich led to higher tuition at state colleges and universities and will mean $3.6 million less in money for college scholarships. State lawmakers still will get to distribute $9.8 million in scholarship money.

"The unfortunate thing is it's putting more of a burden on students," said Hagerstown Community College President Guy Altieri.

In 1971, the state covered 45 percent of the college's costs. Today, the state share is less than 30 percent, he said.

HCC reluctantly increased its tuition by 5 percent this past spring at the risk of reducing accessibility.

A less educated work force hurts economic development, Altieri said.

"It's not good public policy to make higher education less accessible," he said.

Including the cut to HCC, state aid to Washington County was cut by $427,391, which is 0.4 percent of total state aid.

In preparing its 2003-04 budget, county officials had anticipated and built in further cuts in state aid, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

"We understand we all have to share the pain and we planned ahead to share that pain," he said.

Although 82 state workers will be laid off statewide, none of those layoffs will occur at the state prison complex south of Hagerstown, said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

But Mary Ann Saar, state corrections secretary, told an Associated Press reporter on Wednesday that supervisors will have to take over some of the security duties of correctional officers in state prisons.

Vernarelli said he couldn't reach Saar on Thursday to get more information about her comment.

Budget documents released by Ehrlich's office showed the agency's overtime budget was cut by $2.8 million, or 15.9 percent.

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