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Washington County Highway Dept. cuts $400,000 from budget

October 02, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Highway Department shaved $400,000 from its budget this week after hearing that it will get less money than expected from the state.

It is the second such cut this year for the Highway Department, which relies solely on state revenues to fund its roughly $9 million annual budget.

While the department has been able to absorb the roughly $800,000 in cuts so far this year, officials said further cuts likely would force it to dip into emergency funds to get through the winter.

"We're hoping this is our last cut for the year being as it is our second," Highway Director Ed Plank said Tuesday.

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The Highway Department handles road maintenance and traffic control on 850 miles of county roads.

It also is responsible for snow removal and clearing debris during storms.

The department's budget is funded entirely through Highway User Revenues, a state fund that includes tax revenues from vehicle sales, vehicle titling, fuel sales, and registration and motor vehicle fees.

As people drive less and buy smaller cars, those revenues have dwindled, said Erin Henson, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

Maryland transportation officials will be in Washington County Thursday to discuss the state's six-year transportation budget.

The Highway Department cut several items from its budget this week in response to the news that Highway User Revenue projections have been reduced.

A $172,000 line item to pay for radios for the county's new communications system was deferred, and in the future will come from the county's capital improvement budget, Pubic Works Director Joseph Kroboth said.

In addition, the department eliminated money budgeted for fence repairs, contracted services, equipment rentals, traffic control, and materials and supplies, Kroboth said.

Kroboth said the effect of the cuts will depend on the severity of this year's winter weather.

"Each year, that's the real challenge for us," said Kroboth, who noted that the cost of fuel and salt has skyrocketed in the last year.

He said the department saved $100,000 in budgeted salaries and wages that were not spent due to resignations, promotions or transfers and can draw from reserve funds if needed with the approval of the Washington County Commissioners.

Another round of cuts, however, could hurt the department's ability to clear snow and ice, Kroboth said.

"If we have another cut equal to what we've just taken, it will significantly impact how we're able to care for roads throughout the winter," Kroboth said.

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