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Washington County BOE to receive half of disparity grant money

April 13, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Due to receive about $1.5 million from a state-based disparity grant in the coming fiscal year, Washington County officials plan to give half the money to the county Board of Education for capital expenditures.

Debra S. Murray, director of the county’s Office of Budget and Finance, made the suggestion of splitting the money 50-50 with the school board during a Tuesday discussion with the county Board of Commissioners on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said the $750,000 could be made available for some of the school system’s millions of dollars worth of deferred maintenance projects, which the county has not been able to fund in recent years due to state revenue cuts and state expenditure mandates.

As one-time use funding, the disparity grant money to Washington County Public Schools was not included in the county’s proposed General Fund budget, which will need to be adopted by the county Board of Commissioners in the coming weeks. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The school board was a “very large proponent” of the disparity grant and was key in acquiring the funding, Gregory Murray said.

“We still do not have anything in for capital maintenance (for schools). We have zero,” Gregory Murray said of the county’s proposed $201.1 million spending plan. “Of course their requests were substantial ... and we’ve tried to look through the years at places where we could help fund that. This would be one.”

The school board, which is set to receive a slight increase in funding to $90.5 million through the county’s proposed budget, could use $250,000 of the grant money as a local match for planned safety and security measures at various schools, Gregory Murray said.

The remaining $500,000 in capital could then be available for needed maintenance, such as needed upgrades for heating, air-conditioning and ventilation system, he said.

Debra Murray said the grant funding to the school board is for capital expenses and cannot be used as operating revenue. A budget transfer form would need be to submitted to transfer the money as reimbursement from the county’s Capital Improvement Program fund, she said.

“Those funds will be placed into County CIP-BOE restricted funds,” Debra Murray said in an email Thursday. “The BOE will communicate to the County what project(s) they would like to recommend those funds to be allocated to.”

The school system has more than $50 million in deferred maintenance projects, including its non-school buildings and Americans with Disabilities Act deficiencies, officials said in mid-2012.

Prior to the decision to purchase the former Allegheny Energy property on Downsville Pike for its new administrative offices, the school board in January decided against renovating its current Commonwealth Avenue facility, which carries deferred maintenance of nearly $10 million of its own, according to Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox.

The county’s $750,000 one-time portion of the disparity grant is included in the proposed budget as revenue that is then transferred into the county’s Capital Improvement Fund.

Gov. Martin O’Malley’s supplemental budget included Washington County’s share of $6.4 million in funding for the wealth-based grant, which is given to counties that have average per capita income tax revenues of less than 75 percent of the state average.

An additional $3.9 million, representing an increase of 26 percent over the current year, is included in the county’s proposed budget to go to state-mandated pension shift costs for next fiscal year.

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