Residents speak up at budget hearing

May 14, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- At a public hearing Thursday night on their proposed budget for next fiscal year, the Washington County Commissioners heard from educators and students who thanked them for their support of education, as well as from taxpayers who argued that support extends too far.

"You have helped propel all teachers and school administrators into the upper middle class at the expense of the rest of us," Daniel Moeller of Rohrersville said.

Moeller said 70 percent of county teachers and administrators make more than the county's median income.

His plea to rein in spending drew applause from scattered sections of the audience of about 150 people who attended the hearing at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

The public comments followed an overview presentation of the county's proposed $347.6 million budget for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1. The commissioners could vote on the budget as early as Tuesday.


The county's proposed budget includes a 2.9 percent increase in county funding for the Board of Education. That amount fully funds the board's operations request, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said. The county was not able to fully fund the board's post-retirement benefit request, but it provides some funding for those benefits and county officials anticipate they will be able to phase in the rest over the next several years, Murray said.

The proposed budget also fully funds a request for a 4 percent increase in funding for Hagerstown Community College, which students, faculty and administrators testified is growing rapidly.

The county's tax revenue projections were another topic that drew comments at the hearing.

The county proposes to keep the property tax rate the same, at $0.948 per $100 of assessment, but projects a 9.5 percent increase in property tax revenue because assessments in many parts of the county are still phasing in the increases of the previous housing boom, Murray said.

Jerry Ditto, 32, of Hagerstown, said that projection contradicted the trend he has seen in his neighborhood. Ditto said he had looked at 42 new houses surrounding him and found that nearly all had decreased in assessment, at an average of 12.25 percent.

Ditto said he worried the county would end up with a drastic revenue shortfall.

Kelly Weaver, 32, of Hagerstown, had similar concerns about the county's income tax projections.

The county is projecting income tax revenue will remain flat from this fiscal year to next at $68 million, the same total it projected for last fiscal year.

Weaver noted that last fiscal year, the county fell short of that projection by almost $2 million and asked why, with unemployment rates at more than 10 percent, the county is projecting more income tax than it took in that year.

David Manganaro focused his comments on the proposed $22.8 million Eastern Primary School, which officials say is needed to alleviate crowding in eastern zone elementary schools.

Manganaro argued the county should make it a higher priority to ease crowding in the Boonsboro zone, saying elementary schools in that zone are 17 percent over state-rated capacity while those in the eastern zone are 15 percent below.

He said expanding Boonsboro Elementary School has been in the county's capital improvement plan for many years and would cost less than the Eastern Primary project.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said after the public comment portion that he agreed the county should look more seriously at addressing crowding problems in the Boonsboro area.

Budget summary packets distributed at the meeting are available on the county's Web site at

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