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Budget hearing allows residents to air views

Teen pregnancy, education are hot topics

Teen pregnancy, education are hot topics

May 10, 2006|By TARA REILLY

HAGERSTOWN

Several speakers urged the Washington County Commissioners Tuesday night to give the Health Department more than $130,000 that the department requested to fight the county's high teenage pregnancy rate.

The comments came during a public hearing on the county's proposed $305 million total budget at the Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College.

Increased dollars for education and raises for the Washington County Sheriff's Department also were popular topics at the hearing.

The county's total budget includes a $177.9 million general fund, an $85.7 million capital improvement fund and water, solid waste, highway and other funds.

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County Administrator Rodney Shoop said education is the largest expense in the budget at $95.5 million. The budget also proposes increased funding for roads, he said.

The commissioners also have included $500,000 in the budget to start a work-force housing program.

Twenty-four people spoke at the hearing.

Dale Bannon, executive director of the United Way of Washington County who also sits on a county teenage pregnancy task force, said the county has one of the highest teen birth rates in the state and an "alarming" number of sexually transmitted infections.

In 2004 ? the last year for which data is available ? 206 females between the ages of 15 and 19 had babies, an increase from 185 births in 2003, according to the Health Department.

Bannon asked the County Commissioners to give the Health Department money to help lower the teen birth rate.

The Health Department requested $134,097 to hire a nurse practitioner at Elgin Station Community Center in Hagerstown's West End to pay for medical supplies and for a teen pregnancy awareness media campaign.

County staff members initially included the money in the Health Department's budget, but the commissioners removed the money and put it in a reserve fund.

The commissioners said they wanted to determine whether the money could be better spent on other teen pregnancy programs in the county.

Board of Education Vice President Jacqueline Fischer asked the commissioners to fully fund the School Board's budget, while School Board member Russell Williams asked that the commissioners use money from its surplus to start a scholarship program for county students.

Claude Sasse, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, asked the commissioners for additional money to fund pay increases for teachers.

The School Board asked the commissioners for $84.6 million. The commissioners have proposed giving it $83.3 million, including money for nonrecurring costs, crossing guards and the Judith Center, which provides family-based services and instruction at Bester Elementary School.

The county's proposed budget also includes pay increases for Sheriff's Department employees.

Resident Daniel Moeller asked the commissioners to cut the property tax rate. He also criticized the commissioners, saying they easily give the School Board whatever it requests.

Tom Berry of Rohrersville questioned the commissioners' decision to borrow money for the proposed budget when the county's debt is $162 million.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said the county planned to borrow $12 million.

"It seems just a little strange to me," Berry said.

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