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County Comment: State of the County 2009

County Comment
State of the County 2009
By Norman Bassett, Public Information Officer
Washington County, Maryland

Citing the County's success in responsible budgetary processes and major progress on initiatives, Washington County Board of County Commissioners' President John F. Barr delivered the annual State of the County address for 2009 to some 230 community leaders and elected officials on February 2nd, 2010.
The State of the County address is a function of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and was made possible through the sponsorship of First United Bank.
Barr cited promotion of green initiatives such as solar and wind power; streamlining Planning and Permitting regulations; implementation of the Emergency Medical Services Master Plan; and approval of both residential and commercial stimulus packages to help encourage job creation, put people back to work, and provide opportunities to our residents that need a break as examples of county successes.
Environmental initiatives included many new recycling programs, from laying the foundation for county-wide household recycling to use of green technologies in County office buildings.
Major transportation and infrastructure projects in and around the Hagerstown urban growth area included start of the Route 40/Edgewood Drive Intersection reconstruction, and completion of the intersection realignment at Mt. Aetna Road and U.S. 40. Fifty miles of roads were improved through the pavement maintenance program; the Courthouse improvement project was completed and over $4 million in ARRA stimulus funds for construction projects was secured.
Hagerstown Regional Airport became an economic development focal point driven by the recent emergence of a strong defense-based aerospace business cluster, and the return of regular air service.
Planning milestones included evaluation of zoning classifications in the Urban and Town Growth Areas, and completion of the update of the County Water and Sewer Plan.
Public Safety initiatives improved protection of citizens through additional Sheriff's Patrol deputies, completion of the new Central Booking operation, completion of the consolidated Dispatch Center for dispatch of Ambulance, Fire, and Police, and the new interoperable radio communications system progress to the 90% complete stage.
Board of Education achievements were numerous, including four high schools ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, lowest dropout rate in history, SAT averages above the State and national public school averages, and being ranked among the top four school systems in Maryland achieving Adequate Yearly Progress for all elementary, middle, and high schools. Opening of the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, and groundbreakings in 2009 for the new Eastern Primary School and Antietam Academy were also signs of progress.
Hagerstown Community College's spring student population rose by almost 400 more students than in the fall of 2009. HCC has partnered with the County to provide a location for the new Senior Center, anticipated to begin construction later this year, which will allow an increase in the wide range of opportunities available for seniors in our county.
The University System of Maryland-Hagerstown has continued to grow, and Kaplan College became Kaplan University in 2009.
Washington County Free Library renovations are moving along with County, City, and State funding in place. Design is complete and construction will begin in 2010.
Barr cited creation of 767 new jobs in the county from over $145 million in investment, with 528 jobs lost. While the number of jobs in the County shows an overall increase, there was an overall loss of jobs that employ our residents in the region, driving the unemployment rate to over 10%.
Challenges in 2010 include continuing to weather the economic storm through the fiscally conservative initiatives that have meant a continuation of the level of services provided to our citizens, while operating on a flat budget. All departments have been asked to "make do" at 2009 levels or reduce budget requests where possible.
An enhanced priority ranking system has been introduced for capital projects based on necessity and public impact, that will assist to recover paygo money to offset an estimated $14 million in baseline revenue losses on the operational side of the budget.
The Hotel/motel tax will continue to be allocated to municipalities directly so that they have an additional revenue source to help with specified projects. Stimulus funds received for road improvement projects are also being shared with municipalities to help offset reductions in State funding.
The flat funding or in some cases reduction of operating budgets for all agencies will mean elimination of all capital outlay; no step or COLA increases for employees, no new positions or position reclassifications and modifying borrowing within the Capital Improvement Plan.
Barr concluded, "It is evident that as we look toward all aspects of the future, that conservative measures are required to maintain stability and protect our viability. Although we still must wait to see what impact the upcoming State budget may have on our reserves and ultimately our financial stability, we believe that we have positioned the County in a manner that will allow us to ride out the current economic downturn, and provide help for our citizens to do the same."

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