County works to fill in gaps left by state budget

September 15, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County will be able to use its reserves to cover $3.5 million in cuts to state funding announced late last month, but budget officials are gearing up for next fiscal year to be especially tight, county budget and finance director Debra S. Murray told the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday.

State budget cuts approved Aug. 26 by the Maryland Board of Public Works included $3.2 million in Highway User Revenues that had been headed to Washington County for highway maintenance and $211,669 in police aid that was to help cover the Washington County Sheriff's Department's patrol costs, Murray said. Both cuts apply to the current fiscal year budget.

That same round of state budget cuts took more than $7 million in funding combined from the county, City of Hagerstown, the county's incorporated towns, Hagerstown Community College and the Washington County Health Department.

To compensate for the cut in Highway User Revenues, the county will use its entire $2 million of Highway Fund reserves that it has accumulated through several years of savings, then take the other $1.2 million from Capital Improvement Plan reserves, Murray said. The CIP reserves are a combination of savings from completed projects and money transferred to the CIP from the general fund, she said.


The $211,669 cut to police aid will be covered by debt service reserves, or money the county has set aside to offset future increases in the cost of its borrowed funds, Murray said.

In addition to those measures, the county will need to take a harder line on filling vacant positions, granting overtime hours to employees, and paying for seminars and overnight travel, Murray said.

Even vacant public safety positions will need to be reviewed to ensure they are necessary before they are filled, she said.

Seminars and overnight travel will be eliminated unless they are necessary for an employee to remain licensed to do his or her job, Murray said.

Murray said she expects state budget cuts to hit even harder next fiscal year, which probably will mean fiscal year 2011's budget will have no salary increases, no job reclassifications, no new positions and no operating budget increases except for those "maintenance of effort" items required by law.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said those measures and other cuts should prevent the county from having to raise taxes.

"Some of these measures might seem somewhat unconventional or extreme, but given the fact that we're not looking at some of the drastic measures that some other counties have already had to take ... this is very conservative," he said.

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