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Delegation cautious about O'Malley's budget

Lawmakers want restoration of disparity grant for Washington County

January 16, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | Kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Washington County’s Winebrenner Wastewater Treatment Plant will receive $9.1 million for miscellaneous improvements while Hagerstown Community College is slated to get $4.5 million dollars for an expansion of its student center as part of the 2014 fiscal year budget released by Gov. Martin O’Malley on Wednesday.

Andrew Serafini, R-Washington and the chairman of the county delegation, said that at first glance the budget “appears to be responsible in its spending.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley said Wednesday that the state would invest $3.7 billion on roads, schools, bridges and other capital projects.

O’Malley said that the budget for the 2014 fiscal year was a “jobs budget” and the new capital projects would create 43,000 jobs.

But the budget did not allocate a single dollar to the county when it comes to the disparity grant.

Washington County’s legislative delegation is keen on getting the grant, which is usually allocated to counties annually with per capita income tax revenues less than 75 percent of the state average.

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But the program was capped in 2010, and the county has not been part of it since. If eligible, Washington County would have received $6.7 million from the grant in the 2013 fiscal year.

Serafini said Wednesday that it wasn’t only Washington County that is missing out on disparity grant.

“There are eleven other counties who are negatively affected,” he said.

“We are asking for a restoration of the formula so that we could get the grant. Keep in mind that this is the governor’s first pass at this,” Serafini said. “There are multiple avenues that remain. Now the work starts ... what the final budget will look like will be a lot different.”

Serafini said that it would have been nice if the disparity grant money for the county was in the budget.

“But even if he [Gov. O’Malley] put it in there, [it] doesn’t mean it is going to stay,” he said.

According to the budget, Washington County will get $199 million as aid from the state, an increase of 4.6 percent from the last fiscal year.

The county’s per pupil education aid is at $8,251, which is higher than the state average of $7,284.

“Washington County does well. The question is will we still have more money when we are done with the budget process,” Serafini said.

The capital budget also allocates funds to several area schools including $3.2 million for Bester Elementary School and $2.2 million for E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

Boonsboro High School will get capital funding worth $491,000, while Funkstown Elementary School will get $418,000.

“I see a healthy amount of school construction funds,” said Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington. “I don’t see anything that is unexpected.”

Shank said that Maryland was too dependent on the federal government for revenue.

“One act of Congress can send Maryland’s budget into a tailspin … and it reinforces the need to do more with our tax reform and our spending to make Maryland more competitive to have private sector industry locate here.”

Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, cautioned that the final budget will look a lot different than what was presented Wednesday.

“There is plenty of time to make requests and changes,” Donoghue said.

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