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Washington County budget and finance director advises: No new programs

Debra S. Murray recommends turning down funding for a day-reporting center, more library employees, the Community Free Clinic and other requests

April 10, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

For weeks, the Washington County Board of Commissioners has heard department heads and agency leaders explain requests for increased funding and new positions.

On Tuesday, they heard why they should say “no.”

Debra S. Murray, the county budget and finance director, told the commissioners why her department recommends turning down funding for a day-reporting center, more library employees, the Community Free Clinic and other requests in the coming fiscal year.

Based on prior discussions with the five commissioners, budget advisers used a “no new programs or services” philosophy as they cut $5.4 million from the submitted requests to balance the county’s general fund budget without raising taxes, Murray said.

The recommendations are for fiscal 2013, which begins July 1.

Among the proposals affected was Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore’s pitch to open a day-reporting center as an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent offenders.

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Murray suggested the commissioners delay opening that center until at least fiscal 2014.

The commissioners agreed they would reconsider that program in a year.

“I want to keep the idea alive,” Commissioner William B. McKinley said. “...When it’s feasible to do it, we can move forward, but I don’t think now is the time.”

For the library, the proposed budget would cover the increased utility costs when the new downtown library opens, as well as the hiring of a facilities manager and additional library assistant, but other requested increases would be denied.

Funds from the budget for the new library project could be used for computer replacements in the new library, Murray said.

The proposed budget would deny funding requests from the Hagerstown Municipal Band and the Community Free Clinic because those groups were not previously funded, and officials do not want to establish new community contributions, Murray said.

The budget would maintain current funding for Hagerstown Community College, rejecting a requested increase of about $66,000.

It would also provide no additional funding to the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.

New positions that were recommended for approval included three more emergency call-takers for the county 911 center and an additional information-technology specialist for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Murray said. She recommended that both those positions be filled Jan. 1.

The call-takers are needed because the 911 center is relying too much on overtime and, without more staff, wait times for answering calls could reach above the required 10-second limit, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

Mullendore has said the information-technology specialist is needed because of the increasing amount of technology maintained by the one IT specialist who currently works for the office.

Gregory Murray said several issues remain for the commissioners to discuss before approving the budget, including whether:

  • To implement a sticker fee for drop-off recycling.
  • To lower the retirement-eligibility cutoffs for county employees.
  • To modify the county’s senior tax credit so that seniors who make $15,000 per year or less do not pay any county property tax, an increase from the current $12,000 level.
  • To change the excise tax-rate structure for commercial buildings so all types of commercial uses would have the same rate.

A public hearing on the county budget is tentatively scheduled for May 8 at 7 p.m. at HCC’s Kepler Theater.

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