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County OKs budget

May 19, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- The Washington County Commissioners approved the county's proposed budget for next fiscal year Tuesday with last-minute amendments to reduce borrowing, set aside more funding for a senior center and spend $1 million on incentives for commercial development.

The commissioners reached a consensus on the changes after a compromise in which Commissioner William J. Wivell said he would support funding $1 million for development incentives if the other commissioners would agree to also reduce borrowing by $1 million, to $13 million from the proposed $14 million.

For the senior center, the commissioners added $672,000, which they expect to receive through a federal grant. They had already budgeted $1 million for the center in fiscal year 2010. They also added another $1.3 million to that project in the following fiscal year.

County Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray said she thought there would be enough funding left over from recent school construction projects to cover all the changes.

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Together, the Rockland Woods, Pangborn and Maugansville elementary school projects cost at least $4 million less than what the county set aside for them, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

The commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the operating and capital budgets for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1.

"These budgets are never easy, and obviously I don't think any of us got everything we wanted, and things that we would like to see removed are still in there," Wivell said. "But having said that, I think what we have before us is a document that I hope is acceptable to the majority of taxpayers."

One item that Wivell said he would have liked to seen removed from the budget was funding for phase two of a plan to cover staffing shortages at ambulance companies with advanced life-support personnel paid by the county.

Progress in implementing that plan has been slow, and the county still has not hired any staff for the first phase, despite having purchased vehicles for them about two years ago, Wivell said.

The first phase of the plan is to hire 12 rescuers to help other companies as needed by responding in "chase car" vehicles. The second phase would include putting at least 14 county-paid rescuers in the stations themselves, Fire and Emergency Services Director Kevin L. Lewis said.

Wivell and Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said they thought phase two should be taken out of the budget until they could see how the first phase worked out. The commissioners ultimately left the phase two funding in the budget, but agreed to discuss whether to allocate it to the companies for them to spend on staffing.

Setting aside funding for development incentives was proposed by Commissioner James F. Kercheval as a way to address the county's high unemployment rate. The funds are intended for incentives for nonretail commercial developments started this calendar year that promise to create jobs in the county, Kercheval said. The commissioners agreed to allocate $1 million to that initiative now and work out the details and guidelines over the coming months.

Highlights of Washington County's fiscal year 2010 budget:



o Total budget: about $347.6 million

o Operating budget up about 0.73 percent from prior year

o $89.6 million for the Board of Education, a 2.19 percent increase

o $9 million for Hagerstown Community College, a 4 percent increase

o $35.1 million for public safety, a 7.23 percent increase

o 3 percent cost-of-living increase for county employees

o Major capital projects include Arts and Sciences Complex at HCC ($22.5 million in FY2010); Eastern Primary School ($8.5 million in FY2010); and Antietam Academy ($7.4 million in FY2010)

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