Hearing set on proposed $332.5 million Washington County budget

April 23, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- In three weeks, the Washington County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on a proposed $332.5 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year that would allow them to hire dozens of public safety workers and fund an emergency housing unit at the detention center, among other things.

The county's budget, which would increase spending by $23.5 million, or 7.6 percent, over this fiscal year's budget, comes during an economic downturn in which some counties are considering major tax increases to deal with budget shortfalls.

Washington County will not raise its property tax rate this year, though it will earn $10.7 million more in property tax revenue because of rising assessments.

The county will raise water and sewer rates 3.7 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively. Those increases will earn the county $277,590 in new revenue, according to budget documents.


In general, the county has avoided the shortfalls of other counties because of its history of conservative budgeting when times were good, some commissioners have said.

"We didn't spend too much during recent good years, which puts us in a better position now," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said last week.

But others are questioning some of the spending that has been proposed.

The fiscal 2009 budget will fund 63.5 new full-time positions, many of which will be in public safety departments.

A $2.1-million increase for the Washington County Sheriff's Department will pay for an emergency housing unit at the detention center that will employ 11 new officers, and a $1-million increase in the Emergency Services Department budget will provide funding to start Phase 2 of the EMS strategic plan, which would add 18 life-support technicians.

Funding for the EMS positions has been a contentious issue, with Commissioners Kristin B. Aleshire and William J. Wivell arguing that the money should not be set aside until Phase I of the plan is fully implemented.

Other disagreements have centered on funding for nonprofits and a temporary senior center.

The county would borrow $12 million under the budget proposal, a number that has come down more than $8 million since budget talks began.

"It's a reasonable number, considering some of the constraints of the (capital improvement plan)," Wivell said.

The county commissioners will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 13 at 7 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

County budget highlights:

Total spending: $332.5 million

General fund: $206.9 million

Capital Improvement Plan: $81.6 million

Washington County Board of Education: $87.3 million

Washington County Sheriff's Department: $22.2 million

Hagerstown Community College: $8.7 million

Washington County Emergency Services: $9.3 million

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