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Capital projects being prioritized

February 07, 2007|by TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN - Every year at about this time, the Washington County Commissioners start juggling requests for big-ticket capital improvement projects - the bricks, mortar and equipment of county services.

And as usual, capital requests - totaling nearly $97 million for fiscal year 2008 - stretch the county's resources.

So this year, Budget and Finance Director Debra Murray introduced the county commissioners to the new "Capital Improvement Plan Priority Ranking System," designed to make sure the county's money is spent on the most important projects.

Murray told the commissioners Tuesday that the plan divides requests into four categories: vital, essential, necessary and discretionary.

· Vital projects are those that cannot reasonably be postponed, would remedy conditions dangerous to public health, welfare or safety, are needed to meet an emergency situation, are required by law or reduce operating expenses.

· Essential projects are those required to complete or make fully usable a major public improvement, maintain minimum standards as part of an ongoing program or projects where more than 80 percent of the funding is available from other sources for a limited time.

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· Necessary projects are those that should be completed within a few years to meet demonstrated needs, replace unsatisfactory or obsolete infrastructure (roads, water and sewer systems, etc.) or remodeling projects to keep facilities in use.

· Discretionary projects are already planned projects needed to expand programs, designed to start new ones or for conversion of facilities for new uses.

Murray said ranking the projects is the first step of a two-part priority assessment. The second is a "jurisdictional review" that ranks projects according to the county's goals and objectives, she said.

A project's ultimate fate doesn't rest solely on these criteria, however.

"The ranking system is to be used as a guide," Murray said.

There's still a little subjectivity involved in determining which requests are included in the capital budget, said Gary Rohrer, director of public works.

"But this goes a long way toward removing subjectivity" from the process, he said.

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