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Delegation OKs county borrowing

February 05, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Lawmakers voted Wednesday to allow Washington County government to borrow $75 million over about four years, which is $25 million more than originally requested.

About $20 million of the extra debt will be used to finance the Hagerstown Regional Airport runway extension, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

Although about 90 percent of the runway is being paid for by the federal government, the county has to pay for the project up front and get reimbursed, he said.

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About $5 million will be used for farmland preservation. The remaining $50 million will be used for roads, bridges and school construction over the next four years, he said.

Members of the Washington County Delegation voted unanimously to approve the $75 million request. It must now be approved by the Maryland General Assembly.

Typically, the commissioners seek debt authority from the state once every four years.

The last time around, the commissioners got approval to borrow $50 million and spread that over five years, Snook said.

The county borrows money by selling interest-earning bonds on the bond market. Taxpayers pay the debt service.

Along with the $5 million for farmland preservation, local lawmakers agreed to seek legislation to make the county's program more flexible through the use of something called Installment Purchase Programs.

The program allows the county to make tax-free interest payments to landowners over a period of up to 20 years. During that time, the county invests the money to pay for the preservation easement at the end of the installment period, said Delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank.

"You're able to get a lot more bang for your buck," he said.

Frederick, Carroll, Howard and Harford counties already use the program, he said.

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