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Washington County legislators continue to work for wealth-based grant

If it were eligible, the county could receive as much as $7.7 million in fiscal year 2014

February 27, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — Washington County legislators are continuing their quest to get millions of dollars for the county through a wealth-based grant called the disparity grant, a state program created to help counties with low income tax revenues.

Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington, testified Wednesday at a Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hearing and asked for an amendment to the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2013 — a bill introduced by the state in the House and Senate dealing with tax and spending — so that Washington County and several other jurisdictions become eligible for the disparity grant money.

Gregory B. Murray, the Washington County administrator, and Ardath Cade, a lobbyist for the Washington County Board of Education, also spoke at the hearing Wednesday, supporting Shank’s requested amendment.

Shank’s request is similar to a bill introduced by Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, in the House of Delegates that would provide the county a gradually increasing proportion of the grant.

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“One of the unintended consequences was that any county that did not qualify in 2010 for the disparity grant [when] there was a cap, forever forward you did not receive the disparity grant,” Shank said. “We are losing out in Washington County ... the recession hit Washington County especially hard, our unemployment rate is one of the highest in the state.”

Serafini testified in support of his bill at a House Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday.

He said his bill, and the request made by Shank, were part of an effort to look at various avenues to try and ensure that the county gets a portion of the grant money in the years to come.

Washington County hasn’t received any disparity grant money since 2010, when the program was frozen.

If it were eligible, the county could receive as much as $7.7 million in fiscal year 2014.

The grant is calculated according to a formula where counties with per capita income tax revenues of less than 75 percent of the state average are eligible for the state grant.

Murray said that Washington County is among the more “disadvantaged” counties in the state.

But many of these other counties “do have the benefit of a disparity grant to help in these disadvantaged times, knowing that even in Western Maryland when we start to see an economic uptick ... Washington County is typically one and half to two years behind that economic upswing,” he said at the hearing.

Cade also testified Wednesday at the Senate committee and at the House Committee the day before, asking for the grant money for the county.

“For Washington County, $7 million dollars is important,” Cade said at the hearing Wednesday.

The state’s Department of Legislative Services also has proposed an amendment to the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2013 so that counties excluded because of the 2010 freeze can get the grant money.

Serafini said he was hopeful of getting a portion of the money for the county, but the Maryland Department of Budget & Management is opposing his bill because “it greatly increases general fund expenditures.”

According to the department’s written testimony, Serafini’s bill, which provides eligible counties with a gradually increasing proportion of the grant, would cost the state an additional $6.9 million in fiscal year 2015 and $34.4 million in fiscal year 2019.

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