Md. budget cuts take $7 million from county

August 31, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The latest round of state budget cuts trimmed more than $7 million in local aid to Washington County.

As a result, the Washington County Health Department is being forced to scale back its services and will have fewer resources to respond to a possible swine flu pandemic, health officer Earl E. Stoner said.

The cuts, approved Wednesday by the Maryland Board of Public Works, also reduce funding for Hagerstown Community College, police aid, and highway maintenance by the county and its municipalities, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley's office.

They are part of $454 million in state budget cuts announced last week as a step in addressing a projected state budget shortfall of more than $700 million, according to a press release from O'Malley's office.


The health department will lose $743,780, or 35 percent, of the funding the state was to provide to address "core" public health issues, including communicable disease control, family planning, wellness promotion and health services for children, adults and seniors, Stoner said.

The cut comes as the health department is still reeling from a cut of about $450,000 at the end of last fiscal year, the last of six rounds of cuts it saw last fiscal year, Stoner said.

As a result, the department will have to scale back services across the board, cutting down on the number of days per week it holds various health clinics and accepting fewer patients, he said.

"It's unfortunate, but from a fiscal standpoint, we're left with no other options," he said.

Stoner said he understood the need for tough decisions on a state level, but said public health departments were being cut "to the bone" and have lost all flexibility just when they are being asked to respond to a pandemic.

Reduced staff levels will mean fewer resources to respond to the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, he said.

Aside from the cut in funding for core health issues, the recent budget cuts also reduced by 25 percent the Cigarette Restitution Fund money the department gets for its smoking-cessation and cancer-screening programs, Stoner said.

That funding was reduced drastically last fiscal year, so with the new cuts, the department might have to eliminate its Stop Smoking for Life program, Stoner said. The department already eliminated its prostate cancer screening program and will have to cut back on how many individuals it can see for colon cancer screenings, he said.

Others affected

Hagerstown Community College is dealing with a cut of $360,646, or about 5 percent, in its funding from the state.

The state funds about 25 percent of the college's budget, which is $31.2 million for fiscal year 2010, HCC spokeswoman Elizabeth K. Stull said.

Stull said the college built its budget with some expectation that it could face cuts, but it might have to make reductions in areas like equipment purchases and travel costs associated with faculty and staff training.

"We're not planning any staff reductions and we're not cutting anything with regard to programs," Stull said.

However, the cuts do limit the college's ability to hire new faculty to keep up with its rapidly growing enrollment, forcing the college to rely more on adjuncts and part-time faculty, Stull said. The college saw a 15 percent increase in enrollment this semester, which officially started Friday, she said.

Many other community colleges are considering increasing tuition in January, but HCC President Guy Altieri said HCC was not planning to resort to that, Stull said.

"We do not want to put any further burden on our students if we can help it," she said.

State budget cuts that affect the budgets of Washington County and its municipalities include a 90 percent reduction in highway user revenues and a 35 percent reduction in police aid.

Washington County Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray said county staff members have been meeting to discuss proposals for compensating for the loss of the highway user revenues, which are used for road maintenance.

Reductions in state aid to Washington County:

  • Highway user revenues* -- $5,443,540 (90 percent)

  • Washington County Health Department -- $743,780 (35 percent)

  • Police aid* -- $516,711 -- (35 percent)

  • Hagerstown Community College -- $360,646 (5 percent)

    * Totals for highway user revenues and police aid include funding cut from the county and its municipalities.

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