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Lawmaker kicks off effort to get Disparity Grant for Washington Co.

January 22, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Del. Andrew Serafini, who heads the Washington County delegation in the state capital, kicked off an effort Tuesday to get the county millions of dollars in grant money with an informational meeting with legislators and an official from the state’s Department of Legislative Services.

At stake is money from the Disparity Grant, a yearly disbursement to counties with per capita income tax revenues that is less than 75 percent of the state average.

If Washington County were eligible for the grant, it would get about $7.7 million in the 2014 fiscal year.

But it’s not, because the program was capped in 2010, meaning that counties that were not eligible that year have not been eligible since.

“We got to build consensus. If we come at this just as Washington County, we may have a chance but we may not,” Serafini said after the meeting.

Only Wicomico County, which would be eligible for $8.9 million in the 2014 fiscal year, is more severely impacted by the capping of the program.

Serafini said he would likely introduce a bill in the coming weeks that would seek to alter the formula of how the grant was calculated, so that counties that have been locked out of the process were able to get the grant money. Or it could be achieved through an amendment to the budget process, he said.

“We are in the stages of developing a solution that will please the broadest spectrum,” he said.

Ten other counties are impacted by the cap, and without the cap, the counties would be eligible for a total of $24.7 million in grant money.

Hiram Burch, a manager specializing in local government research and analysis in the state’s Department of Legislative Services, said the grant money usually goes to a county’s general fund.

One option for counties who are currently not receiving the grant money would be to suggest an option that would get the counties 20 or 40 percent of the total amount due, he said.

For Washington County, that amount would be $1.3 million and $2.7 million respectively.

“You could have a phase out of the cap,” Burch said at Tuesday’s meeting.

How the counties would progress and the exact language of the bill would be figured out in the weeks to come, Serafini said.

Del. Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City, Del. Charles Otto, R-Wicomico/Somerset, and Del. Adelaide Eckardt, R-Caroline/Dorchester/Talbot and Wicomico, were among state legislators who attended Tuesday’s meeting.

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