Washington County senior citizen center funding comes up short

August 10, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |

A state funding problem is threatening to push construction of a $5.85 million Washington County senior citizen center — already delayed 10 months — into 2012.

For months, the county has awaited $600,000 it expected this year from the Maryland Department of Aging, followed by $200,000 next year.

However, it became apparent this week that the county won't get the $600,000 — at least, right away — because of how it was awarded.

The current plan is to build a 27,000-square-foot senior citizen center on the Hagerstown Community College campus. It will have a gymnasium, kitchen, Internet cafe, multipurpose dining room and a variety of meeting and activity rooms, including a computer lab, game room, art room and professional counseling areas.

A 2,300-square-foot addition would follow later.

Construction was supposed to start in October 2010, but has been held up because of the state funding snag.

Even though only a portion of the total project cost is at stake, the state money appears to be critical before construction can begin.

Joseph Kroboth III, the county director of public works, said the state Department of General Services must approve a project that uses Department of Aging money. But general services can't review plans until funding is approved, leaving the entire project in limbo, Kroboth said.

The county requested $800,000, the maximum the Department of Aging will award, for fiscal year 2012. Because of budget constraints, the department didn't fund any capital requests.

However, when $600,000 from a previous year became available — a Baltimore City project wasn't moving ahead — the department pledged that money to Washington County.

The state Board of Public Works had to give final approval.

However, the item was pulled from the board's June 15 agenda amid concerns that the state's House and Senate budget committees needed to be consulted.

The item never came back to the board.

Del. Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico/Worcester, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, said Wednesday that the $600,000 pledge to Washington County failed to go through full budget review, so the process will start anew when the 2012 legislative session convenes in January.


'Let the process work'

Secretary of Aging Gloria G. Lawlah was more optimistic, saying it's unknown if funding will be approved this year or must wait until next year.

"It is under review," she said, noting her strong support for a Washington County senior citizen center.

Lawlah also said the department will review its process for awarding money to projects.

A March 23 email from Lawlah to Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., the Washington County delegation chairman at the time, strongly suggests the senior citizen project will get money this year.

"The Department is currently in the process of recycling $600,000 in funds from the CIP (capital improvement program) towards the construction of the Senior Center in Washington County," she wrote. "Afterwards, the Washington County Commission on Aging and Washington County Government will submit an application to CIP for (fiscal year) 2013 in the amount of $200,000; thereby, restoring the funding request to $800,000."

Contacted Wednesday, Terry Baker, the president of the Washington County Board of Commissioners, reserved judgment.

"I'm all for the senior center, but I think we have to let the process work," he said.

He said the commissioners haven't talked about finding another $600,000 this year and moving ahead, without the state.

Kroboth said the county grew wary as the delays continued and, to be safe, applied for money next year.

Aside from the Department of Aging money, the rest of the funding is in place includes:

  • $250,000 from a private foundation
  • $47,300 in excise tax revenue
  • $677,123 from a Community Development Block Grant
  • $1,846,300 from the county's general fund
  • $2,223,100 from a tax-supported bond.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, the current delegation chairman, learned this week that the funding issue was too tangled and probably will have to wait until next year.

Referring to the Department of Aging's plan to redirect $600,000, he said: "It's well within the agency's jurisdiction to do this.

"I'm discouraged," he said. "It could and should have moved forward, but you have to respect the process."

A June 10 Department of Legislative Services memorandum expressed concern that "the budget committees have not been given adequate notice about the proposed project," calling it "a matter of courtesy."

Conway said individual projects must be approved in the budget process, not just amounts of money.

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