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Washington Co. to move forward with senior center project

$800,000 in additional county funds will fill in gap created by state grant that fell through

September 27, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County Administrator Gregory B. Murray speaks Tuesday about the benefits of moving forward with construction of a senior center at Hagerstown Community College.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Washington County's senior center project at Hagerstown Community College will go forward as planned, substituting $800,000 in additional county funds for an anticipated state grant that didn't come through, the Board of County Commissioners decided Tuesday.

The decision means the $5.85 million project can finally move into its construction phase. Construction was supposed to start in October 2010, but was held up because plans could not be approved until all the funding was in place.

The center is to include a gymnasium, kitchen, Internet cafe, multipurpose dining room, and a variety of meeting and activity rooms for use by area senior citizens.

State delegates are still trying to get the county the $800,000 it sought from the Maryland Department of Aging, but waiting for that money would delay the project into next fiscal year, with no guarantee the funds would come through, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

If the county puts forward the $800,000, it could still receive the state grant retroactively, he said.

The commissioners voted unanimously to move ahead using county funds, but before the vote, Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham was uneasy about the funding source for the $800,000.

The county will take the $800,000 from $1.2 million that was budgeted for interest on bonds that the county has decided to call in, Murray said.

The bonds were intended as protection in case federal funding for the county's runway extension project fell through, Murray said. The county has been receiving that funding over a period of years, and, though there is still a year and a half to go, Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray said the county has enough cash reserves that she is comfortable calling in the bonds.

Callaham said she was uncomfortable making that decision without seeing the financial details in writing. She also questioned whether there were other projects that ought to be considered for the $800,000.

"We're sort of expected to sit here and within three or four minutes, make an $800,000 decision?" Callaham said. "That doesn't work for me."

"The thing is, you did make that decision when you approved the budget, and this is the only capital project within that budget that no longer has funding," Gregory Murray responded. "The question is, do you want to take available money and fund a project that you already determined was a priority in your budget?"

All the other funding sources for the senior center are in place, he said.

Commissioner John F. Barr made the motion to move ahead as planned.

"We've talked about this; we've done due diligence," Barr said.

Callaham ended up joining in the unanimous "yes" vote.

"I do a lot of things that I think initially are against my better judgment, so I will yield to the expertise of my fellow commissioners and vote 'yes' because I believe so strongly in senior commitment," she said.

Meanwhile, the Washington County Commission on Aging is still considering moving its temporary senior center from its current location at Girls Inc. to the agency's headquarters at 140 W. Franklin St. while waiting for the permanent center to be built, Commission on Aging Executive Director Susan J. MacDonald said after the meeting.

That move would require the commissioners' approval, but was not discussed during Tuesday's meeting.

"We're very pleased, of course, that the center is going forward, and we commend the commissioners for that decision," MacDonald said. "That doesn't really address the decision of what to do in the interim. That's a discussion for another day."

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