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County able to reduce proposed borrowing by $1.5M, officials say

April 27, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- A combination of unanticipated grants, a project cancellation and lower-than-budgeted project costs will allow Washington County to reduce its proposed borrowing for next fiscal year by $1.5 million, county budget officials said Tuesday.

The savings reduce the amount of new tax-supported borrowing proposed for fiscal year 2011 to $12 million, down from the $13.5 million originally proposed.

The Washington County Commissioners rejected a proposal by Commissioner James F. Kercheval to apply that savings, instead, toward creating a second entrance to Hagerstown Community College sooner than planned.

The commissioners also rejected proposals by Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire to shave off another $600,000 in borrowing by reducing the county's contributions to school land acquisition and a library renovation project.

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HCC entrance



The project advocated by Kercheval is a roughly half-mile road segment that would extend west from HCC's Scholar Drive and connect to the back of Varsity Lane, a new development off Robinwood Drive.

The latest cost estimate for that road project is about $4.4 million, county Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III said.

The project is not scheduled to begin until fiscal year 2016, but Kercheval said starting it sooner would provide better access to a senior center planned for the HCC campus.

In addition, if started soon, the project has a good chance of getting $600,000 in grant funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission, and asphalt and construction costs are lower now than they would be six years from now, Kercheval said.

He argued the inflation-related savings from starting the road sooner would be greater than the savings from reducing borrowing. The interest rate on borrowed funds is about 3.5 percent, Kercheval said.

Aleshire, and Commissioners William J. Wivell and Terry Baker were against moving up the road project.

The new road segment would run through the former Mt. Aetna Farms property now owned by Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries. The owner has agreed to donate right of way for the road, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

Wivell said there were too many unknowns associated with the project, including whether the former Mt. Aetna Farms property will ultimately be privately or publicly developed.

Aleshire said he was concerned funding that road section would discourage the federal government from helping fund other road improvements in that area, including a new bridge over Antietam Creek near Professional Court. Eventually, planners envision a connection from Varsity Lane to Yale Drive and from Yale Drive to Eastern Boulevard via Professional Court, Kroboth said.

Commissioners President John F. Barr said he was disappointed the other commissioners did not want to move the project up.

"It's a vital part of infrastructure and mobility for the citizens of Washington County," he said.

Aleshire's proposal



Aleshire proposed setting aside $2.25 million for school land acquisition instead of the $2.6 million in the Capital Improvement Plan. The $350,000 saved could be added to the reduction in borrowing, he said.

The $2.6 million is an estimate based on five possible sites for an east city high school, which ranged from about $2.2 million to $3.2 million, Kroboth said.

In addition, Aleshire said he wanted to cut $250,000 from the county's contribution to the renovation of Washington County Free Library's downtown branch. He said the county's fiscal year 2010 contribution to the project had increased by about that amount from what was originally proposed.

Those two reductions, along with savings from an HCC arts and sciences complex expected to come in hundreds of thousands of dollars under budget, could be added to the reductions in borrowing, Aleshire said.

The other commissioners said they wanted to leave those three items in the budget as proposed, but said additional borrowing reductions could be made if the school land acquisition, library, or arts and sciences complex projects came in lower than budgeted.

Savings breakdown



According to a summary sheet from county Budget Director Debra S. Murray, the $1.5 million in savings identified by county budget staff came from:

o $550,000 in state funding made available for a Devil's Backbone Dam project

o $150,000 in Appalachian Regional Commission and state funding made available for a GIS Parcel Vectorization project

o $500,000 from a budgeted county contribution to a Community Action Council work-force housing project that the organization determined was not feasible due to the economy

o $100,000 reduction in the cost estimate for a Devil's Backbone Dam project

o $160,000 in savings on a Mills Road culvert project

o $40,000 in savings on a Harpers Ferry Road bridge project

Humane Society cut



In other budget actions Tuesday, the commissioners agreed to deny the Humane Society of Washington County a $12,000 funding increase requested by the organization to cover rising workers' compensation and employee health benefit costs.

Aleshire said he did not support increasing funds to an outside agency when internal department budgets had been cut, and Wivell and Baker agreed. They decided to flat-fund the agency at this year's funding level of $1.16 million.

The Humane Society serves as the official animal control authority for Washington County. The commissioners also denied the Humane Society an increase last year after the organization failed to submit its budget request by deadline.




If you go...



What: Public hearing on Washington County's budget

When: May 4, 7 p.m.

Where: Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater

More information: A budget summary should be posted within a few days at http://www.washco-md.net, county Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray said.

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