Praise for the budget

May 23, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The message from most people who spoke Tuesday at a Washington County budget public hearing was to the point.

Thanks, several speakers said.

Joan Johnson, the chairwoman of English and humanities at Hagerstown Community College, thanked the Washington County Commissioners for their "vote of confidence" through funding.

John R. Hershey III, the president of Washington County Free Library's board of trustees, thanked the commissioners for their support for libraries.

James Haught said he and his wife live on fixed incomes, with help from good investments. "My best investment is in Washington County," said Haught, urging full funding for the county's public school system.


The praise was echoed by many with school, college or library connections.

The commissioners' proposed fiscal year 2008 budget already includes full funding for operational expenses for Washington County Public Schools and Hagerstown Community College, according to County Administrator Gregory Murray.

The commissioners did their legal duty Tuesday by asking for feedback on their budget proposal. More than 125 people attended the hearing at HCC's Kepler Theater.

Overall county spending for next year is proposed at $309 million, up 1.8 percent from this year.

The proposed general-fund budget is $196 million, up 10 percent from this year. Nearly half of that increase would be set aside for undetermined capital projects, Murray has said.

The property tax rate is scheduled to remain 94.8 cents per $100 of assessed value. Tax bills would rise, though, because of increasing property assessments.

The county is projecting 8.6 percent more property tax revenue next year.

The commissioners have approved raising water bills 3.5 percent and sewer bills 3.4 percent, based on the average residential customer.

Only a handful of the roughly two dozen people who addressed the commissioners at the hearing spoke of room for improvement.

William M. Breichner said costs to run the Holly Place group home in Hagerstown have risen and asked if the county could increase funding by more than 3 percent. Breichner serves on the board that oversees Holly Place.

Brien J. Poffenberger, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said the county has room under its self-imposed debt ceiling and should consider adding to its general-obligation bonds for capital projects.

Diane Eves urged the commissioners to consider that increased property assessments raise tax bills and force landlords to raise rent costs.

The commissioners are scheduled to do a final review of the budget June 5 and approve a budget June 12.

County budget highlights

Some highlights of Washington County's proposed fiscal year 2008 budget:

· Overall spending at $309 million, up 1.8 percent from this year

· General-fund budget at $196 million, up 10 percent from this year (including new money to be set aside for capital projects)

· Property-tax rate at 94.8 cents per $100 of assessed value, the same as this year (Tax bills would go up, though, because of rising property assessments)

· Full funding for public school and Hagerstown Community College operational expenses

· Water bills would go up 3.5 percent for an average residential user

· Sewer bills would go up 3.4 percent for an average residential user

· Nine new emergency medical positions

· Five new deputy sheriff positions

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