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Center's funding is top priority

December 19, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

State lawmakers said Thursday their top priority for the upcoming legislative session will be securing $1.87 million in operating money for the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

The local business community is in the process of hiring a lobbyist to bolster the effort, said Delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

"I certainly won't turn down any offers of help. I certainly think it can only help the cause," he said.

University System Chancellor William Kirwin has told local community leaders that the campus will need $770,000 to operate after it opens in January 2005, Mayor William M. Breichner said.

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In addition, Kirwin has asked for $1.1 million for programs, Breichner said.

Shank said he and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, have met with Gov. Robert Ehrlich to request the money.

When asked about the money during a visit to Mack Trucks in Hagerstown last week, Ehrlich said it was too early to confirm that the money will be in his budget, which will be released in January.

Munson said he is "fairly optimistic" the money will be in Ehrlich's budget.

Local lawmakers said they also have met with Ehrlich's Budget Secretary, James "Chip" DiPaula.

"He is well aware it's our top priority. They're working to do the best they can for us," Shank said.

If the money makes it into Ehrlich's spending plan, it still will have to survive the Maryland General Assembly's budget cuts.

Shank said it's encouraging that the new House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico/Worchester, also is from a rural part of the state.

Conway, D-Wicomico/Worchester, will have a lot of control over the budget cuts along with Munson, who is on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

A lobbyist would be able to closely track the project to make sure it stays in the budget, Shank said.

A contractor hired by the state is in the process of renovating the former Baldwin House complex on West Washington Street for the university system.

Hagerstown officials made it clear that the university operating money is their top legislative priority as well.

Shank said the university's success will depend on enrollment, so he encouraged government and business leaders to offer incentives for their employees to take classes there.

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