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Washington County's '06 legislative agenda

December 16, 2005|by Gregory I. Snook

I would like to wish all citizens of Washington County a happy holiday season on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners.

The 2006 session of the Maryland General Assembly will affect a number of issues important to Washington County citizens, including school construction, road maintenance and funding for nonprofit agencies and emergency services.

A number of "big ticket" items will be up for debate in the legislature this year, affecting Washington County and the state as a whole. Increased state support will help us as we develop the county budget for Fiscal Year 2007, a process that we have already begun.

School construction funding is the county's top priority, with a goal of one new school to be constructed each year for the next five years. Last year the total for school construction in the governor's budget and supplemental budget was $250 million statewide. Of that amount, Washington County got about $7 million.

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This year, the request from the Maryland Association of Counties is to increase the allocation to $400 million, which would increase our share by as much as $3 million. What that would do here and in other counties is make sure we can keep up with the school renovations and new construction. The Board of County Commissioners' first goal is to construct one new school a year, to make sure we keep up with the growth. The second is to renovate all the existing schools that are in the 40- to 50-year age range.

Although schools receiving initial focus are at the elementary level, a close watch is being kept on both middle and high schools as far as additions and renovations due to capacity concerns.

The commissioners are addressing those situations and also working with the School Board to see if redistricting is feasible and could help with those pressures as growth occurs, both inside the Hagerstown city limits and outside the city limits.

The second big target for focus in upcoming budget is making sure we have our pavement management plan in place. It's a multi-year plan and about $4 million went into repaving, repairing and reclaiming about 48 miles of roads this year.

To make this happen, state funding needs to be assured. I am sure that a lot of people are aware that over the last two years, the state took all of our Highway User revenues away and placed them into another account benefiting education. That has caused us to have to play "catch up" with our roads.

Another item of critical importance is how Washington County supports emergency services and nonprofit organizations. Sadly, there are some in the state who think Washington County is not doing what it should to be accountable for revenue derived from gaming activities.

Recently two county staff members, Jim Hovis and Dan DiVito, and myself testified before a legislative committee about charitable gaming. We told the committee that the gaming commission has been in place for 10 years here in Washington County and has worked perfectly for all the nonprofits and also the fire and rescue companies in the county.

The 2005 gaming commission payout was the largest ever, a little more than $3 million, split evenly between fire and rescue and the 501.c charitable nonprofit organizations. Through our system of regulating, licensing and monitoring gaming activity, the county benefits in terms of providing assistance to vital community programs like shelters, food banks, Boy and Girl scouts, Little Leagues and a host of other activities, as well as providing support for emergency services without having to levy extra taxes.

Our testimony to that committee showed how, over 10 years, some $28 million has been raised to go back into the community and every single penny goes back to nonprofits.

The money needed to provide staffing is raised by fees and licensing and the county does not have to put any money into the operating of that enterprise.

One of the concerns the state had was that we do not know how the money is being used, but that is not true at all. The gaming commission has worked well and we have policed ourselves well. Unlike some other counties, we know how the money raised has been used.

I thought the committee received us very well, and we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed that nothing adverse comes up in the next session.

Washington County Commissioners have a very good working relationship with the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

We are working with them on legislation that will improve the ways in which local government serves our citizens. I will be in Annapolis each week during the coming session to ensure that the county's goals are achieved.




Gregory I. Snook is president of the Washington County Board of County Commissioners. He is also the incoming first vice president of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) and chairs that organization's legislative committee.

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