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Residents ask delegates to protect local funding

November 08, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

SMITHSBURG - As Maryland legislators prepare to tackle a potential $1 billion budget shortfall, local residents and officials pleaded with them to protect funding for education and public safety, and offered suggestions for other ways to cut back at a community meeting Thursday in Smithsburg.

Both legislators at the meeting, Del. Andrew A. Serafini and Sen. Donald F. Munson, both R-Washington, said they were concerned that other legislators might try again to put Washington County's tip jar gaming under state control.

Sharing tip jar profits with the rest of the state would be crippling for local fire and rescue organizations that currently rely heavily on the tip jars for funding, Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services Chief Jon Snyder said. Snyder also asked that the legislators protect funding for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute, the state's training system for emergency services.

Robert Miller, a correctional services employee, asked that the legislators protect positions within the already tightly-staffed Maryland State Police and fight to preserve state police helicopter operations.

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Serafini emphasized that education is one of his top priorities and stressed the need to push local students toward engineering, math and biochemistry.

"I'm glad we have an arts school, but what I'd really like to see is (a magnet school for) science and technology," Serafini told Washington County Board of Education member Ruth Anne Callaham at the meeting.

Callaham was receptive to the idea, pointing out that a science, technology, engineering and mathematics school would be cheaper to build than the standard high school the board is considering for east Hagerstown because it would not need a stadium or track.

Smithsburg Town Council member Jerome Martin suggested that another way to cut costs would be to use one design for all new schools or to use existing structures in place of new buildings. Others at the meeting suggested the state look to make its highway work crews more efficient.

Still, with a huge budget hole to fill and tax increases unlikely, the legislators said the state was likely to be forced into drastic measures. None of the options are very appealing, Serafini said, with officials deciding between freezing pay, cutting positions, cutting benefits and cutting programs.

"It's a tough time," Munson said.

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