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Washington County Commissioners advised to invest $444 million in capital improvements

Nearly a third would come from state and federal grants, about half from borrowing and the rest from county cash

February 15, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Budget advisers are recommending that Washington County make about $444 million worth of investments in capital projects such as schools, roads and bridges over the next decade.

That’s after the Capital Improvement Plan Committee cut about 40 percent from the more than $750 million worth of projects that have been requested by county departments and other agencies for the next 10 years, Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray told the Washington County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

Nearly a third of the $444 million would come from state and federal grants, about half from borrowing and the rest from county cash, Murray said.

Murray’s presentation to the commissioners marked the beginning of the county’s budget deliberations in preparation for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1.

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“In your capital plan, you really only approve one year at a time — fiscal year 2013,” Murray told the commissioners. “Your other nine years are a plan.”

In fiscal 2013, the draft CIP recommends $44.9 million in capital projects spending, including county and noncounty funding sources. That’s about 10 percent less than the $49.5 million the county budgeted for capital-project spending in fiscal 2012.

A little over a quarter of the proposed fiscal 2013 capital spending would go toward road improvements. Major road projects would include pavement maintenance, widening Robinwood Drive, relocating part of Shawley Drive and extending Yale Drive.

Another quarter would go toward Washington County Board of Education projects, including about $7.9 million to begin constructing a new school to replace Bester Elementary School in Hagerstown.

Other major categories for capital spending would include bridge, water quality, airport, general government, community college and transit projects.

The proposed capital budget would require borrowing $14 million through tax-supported bonds, according to the budget draft.

Murray said that level of borrowing was recommended based on an analysis of four debt-affordability benchmarks.

For example, if the county borrows $14 million each year, the county’s debt per capita would be expected to remain below about $1,030, and debt service would remain below about 7.6 percent of the county’s general fund revenue. Among similarly-sized counties, average debt per capita is $1,640, and debt service averages 8.52 percent of general fund revenue, according to the debt-capacity analysis.

County staff used those debt-affordability measures, along with revenue projections, to recommend what level of capital spending would be affordable over the next 10 years, Murray said.

This is the first year that the county has had a full 10 years’ worth of project requests from all departments and agencies, Murray said.

The capital committee recommended delaying some requested projects and rejecting others to reach the recommended spending level, she said.

The CIP panel consists of the county administrator, budget and finance director, planning director and public works director.

One noteworthy project included in the proposed 10-year plan is a $14.1 million police, fire and rescue training facility at Hagerstown Community College. The draft capital plan shows design for that project beginning in fiscal 2016, with the first phase of construction in fiscal 2017.

County officials are anticipating the state will pick up about 63 percent of the tab for that project.

The commissioners will discuss the capital-improvement recommendations in depth over the coming weeks. The county will then hold a public hearing on the capital and operating budgets before approving them. The hearing has been set for May 8, with the vote to be held later in the month.

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