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Washington County Commissioners consider legislative priorities

They might ask to borrow $60 million in bond money to fund Capital Improvement Plan until 2018

October 24, 2012|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners are considering asking the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly for permission to borrow $60 million in bond money to fund the county’s Capital Improvement Plan through 2018.

The commissioners might also ask the local delegation for permission to appoint municipal police officers as special sheriff’s deputies, get authority for the country to design special payment plans in lieu of personal property taxes to attract technology companies.

These items, and others on a list compiled by county staff, were discussed briefly at Tuesday's commissioners meeting. The county’s legislative requests will be discussed with the county’s legislative delegation in mid-December.

Debra Murray, the county’s budget and finance director, said the county will have about $1.6 million of bond money left for fiscal year 2014 for capital improvements and will need to secure additional funding for the 2015 fiscal year. The Capital Improvement Plan outlines projects that the county expects to undertake in upcoming years.

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At Tuesday’s meeting, Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said appointing municipal police officers as special deputies would enable the officers to respond to emergencies across municipal lines. That ability would allow municipal police officers to work more efficiently, especially in areas where a few houses on a single street might be in the city while others might be under county jurisdiction, Mullendore said.

“It is very, very difficult to track those to be able to determine if they are in the city or the county,” Mullendore said.

Another issue the county wants to address is the disparity grant, also known as the teachers retirement supplemental grant, which is given annually to counties with per-capita income tax revenues less than 75 percent of the state average. But the legislature capped the program in 2010, stopping counties that were not eligible that year from joining the program.

An effort by Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, to add Washington County to the grant program failed even though the state Department of Legislative Services recommended that the county be included in the program.

The county would have received $6.7 million in grant money in fiscal year 2013 had it been eligible, according to a previous report. Gregory Murray, the county administrator, said the amounts of the disparity grants were increasing because of the bad economy.

The commissioners might ask the delegation to pursue clarification of the definition of “amusement devices” such as game machines and billiard tables. In the last legislative session, a similar effort late in the session was held up because of debates over the casino gaming bill.

The Washington County bill, which did not make it out of committee, would have expanded the definition of the devices so that games that can be activated by items such as credit or debit cards instead of coins or tokens would qualify as “amusement devices.”

Another issue the commissioners might want to address is PILOTs or payments in lieu of taxes for technology businesses. That would give the county the flexibility to attract technology companies to the area by charging them an agreed upon amount over a period of time instead of a usually hefty personal property tax bill upfront, said Kirk Downey, deputy county attorney.

Downey said that the county staff presented a plan to ask the delegation for revisions to Section 1-108 of the Code of Public Local Laws, which sets forth the rules under which local nonprofit organizations may receive money from the county’s general fund. The county commissioners recently adopted new procedures as part of the county’s annual budget process when it comes to supporting community nonprofits.

“As a result of the changed procedures, the county may need to seek revisions to certain portions of Section 1-108,” Downey said.

Another issue that the delegation might be asked to tackle involves state statutes that mention specific salaries for Washington County elected officials.

“A change in the law would let the county commissioners determine salaries without the need for the delegation to act,” Downey said.

An item on the original list of priorities involving the county’s authority to license micro-breweries will not be pursued because it already has the power to license such breweries.

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