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Legislative work - The reaction at home

April 15, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

While lawmakers toiled in Annapolis, some Washington County constituents kept track from afar.

Several people interviewed Thursday in downtown Hagerstown said they didn't pay attention to the 2007 Maryland General Assembly session that ended Monday. Others in the area, though, had a vested interest.

County Commissioners President John F. Barr was pleased that $1.4 million for a central booking facility for police remained in the final state budget. The county also did well on school construction money, he said.

Little happened, though, to change a state policy of releasing prison inmates by giving them money for a bus ticket home, Barr said.

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Kevin Moriarty, executive director of the Washington County Arts Council, said it was a tight budget year, yet there was "meaningful" arts funding that will help the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, Western Maryland Blues Fest and other local causes.

He also praised state funding for two arts-related projects - Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts.

Some Hagerstown city officials said for a story last week that the session's successes included money for central booking and the school for the arts, as well as a discussion, sparked by a failed bill, of a more equitable way of sharing tax revenue with the county.

Roxanne R. Ober, president of the Washington County Board of Education, said school construction money was the board's prime concern. She called the county's total - $9 million out of $400 million statewide - a "reasonable amount" that will help three current local projects.

Still, the county, which added more than 600 students in the past two years, can do better, Ober said.

"It's been years since we received the amount we need," she said. The county asked for $20.4 million.

Timothy Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, focused on one issue - a proposed Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Green Fund created by taxes on any "new impervious surface," such as a house, a parking lot or a driveway, on all types of development.

The House passed the bill, but it died in a Senate committee. Troxell said it would put Maryland and Washington County at "an economic disadvantage" in attracting new businesses. For example, the fee would have added about $1.6 million to the cost of the FedEx Ground project.

"They would not have located in Washington County if that had been the case," Troxell said.

Brien J. Poffenberger, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, spearheaded a coalition of local private and public entities that, for the second straight year, hired a lobbyist.

Central booking and the prisoner release policy were on the coalition's issue list this year. It also kept an eye on $3 million in funding for MARBIDCO, a quasi-public corporation that supports agricultural projects; the money wasn't cut.

A fourth priority this year was Washington County Free Library's planned expansion. The library will ask the state for around half of the $18 million project because the building houses a state regional library.

Coalition lobbyist Michael V. Johansen said the initial tactic was budget language requiring the Maryland State Department of Education to help fund the library, "but that was perceived to be a little too directive."

The current strategy is to work with the department, he said.

A fifth coalition priority arose during the session - a proposed task force on gambling in Maryland. The bill passed the House, but died in a Senate committee. The coalition opposed the idea.

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