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Most county departments will have to make financial cuts

March 29, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County Administrator Gregory B. Murray
File photo

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Most Washington County departments will have to cut back yet again for the next fiscal year as the county deals with shrinking revenue and rising expenses in areas such as health insurance and workers’ compensation, officials said Tuesday.

“There were some very difficult decisions that have been made for the upcoming fiscal year ’12 budget,” Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray told the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

The county budget staff shaved more than $6.2 million off the amount requested by department heads, for a total proposed general fund budget of $196.8 million for fiscal 2012, Murray said.

That’s more than $300,000, or 0.16 percent, smaller than this year’s budget of about $197.1 million.

The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The commissioners have a public hearing on the proposed budget each year before taking it to a vote, with both the hearing and vote typically held in May.

Not including outside agencies or public safety, other areas of the county budget will see an average cut of 4.8 percent in operating budget requests, Murray said.

That’s after three consecutive years of reductions in internal county costs, she said.

The draft budget shows the county contributing about $8.9 million to Hagerstown Community College, an increase of $180,000 over this year’s contribution. That proposal falls short of the $315,680 funding increase the college requested to keep up with enrollment growth and rising program costs.

The draft budget shows about $2.6 million in funding for libraries, a decrease of $92,000 over this year’s budget. Part of that decrease was because a $35,00 one-time cost funded this year is not in next year’s budget.

The rest of the decrease would come from a combination of eliminating one vacant position, decreasing part-time hours and a reduction in service contract costs while the central library is closed for renovation, according to the budget draft.

Public safety is one area where the budget is proposed to grow.

A budget draft shows $35.3 million in public safety spending, up about 2.4 percent from this year’s $34.5 million.

Reasons for that increase include rising costs for workers’ compensation insurance for fire and rescue volunteers, the higher operating costs for a new countywide radio system, and rising costs for food, medical and electricity expenses at the Washington County Detention Center, Murray said.

The county is proposing a 2 percent decrease in funding to the Washington County Health Department, budget documents show.

Fourteen nonprofit organizations are budgeted to receive county funds next fiscal year.

The Miss Maryland organization, which received county funding in previous years, is not slated for funding next year because the county’s funding agreement will have expired, the budget draft said.

Budget staff recommended funding all but one of the other 14 nonprofits at this year’s funding level. The exception, the Tri-County Council of Western Maryland, will receive $40,000, or $15,000 more than this year, because that is the minimum level of dues for the county to keep a seat, the budget draft said.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham questioned how the county decided which nonprofits were eligible for county funding and suggested that the commissioners develop a philosophy for that selection process.

“I think the initial philosophy was those agencies that are deemed to provide community service, and that’s wide-ranging and not well-defined,” County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

Callaham said she thought a funding philosophy would be a good business practice.

“I don’t want to pick on any one of them,” she said.

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