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County Comment: Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Goes to Public Hearing

County Comment
Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Goes to Public Hearing
By Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners took the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2011 to Public Hearing on May 4th, 2010 at 7pm in Kepler Theater on the Hagerstown Community College campus.
The proposed budget plan for all funds is balanced at $547.5 million, a reduction of $50.6 million from the 2010 level, or 14.6% less. Included in the total are the General Fund, at $197.1 million, the six-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) at $306.5 million, Environmental Service funds at $24.1 million, Transportation Service funds at $13.7 million and Other Program/Service Funds of $6.1 million.
County Administrator Gregory B. Murray delivered the budget presentation and summary, and the Commissioners took public testimony from 8 citizens.
Murray told the gathering that the County has faced major budgetary issues this year, due in large measure to reductions in revenue from the state, and current economic conditions. State reductions in the Highway user revenue, generated by vehicle registrations in the county, meant a loss of $9 million. The high unemployment rate has resulted in a reduction of $8 million in Income Tax revenue. The housing market decline has meant lower revenues in excise, recordation and property taxes. The new Tax Differential policy, which lowers property tax rates by 12.5 cents for residents of municipalities, also reduces revenues for services provided to County citizens.
Murray detailed General Fund Changes by category for FY '11. Full-time employee expenditures were reduced 5%, part-time employment costs were reduced by 3% and overtime pay dropped 6%. Employee fringe benefit costs were reduced by 7%. Departments were instructed to cut operating budgets where possible, and the result was a reduction of 5% in those costs.
The major reduction to the general fund was a 99% reduction in costs for capital outlay, which pays for such items as office machinery and vehicles.
Educational Funding for operations was proposed at just over $104 million, which ensured maintenance of effort funding for K-12 public education, while the Free Library and Hagerstown Community College budgets were static.
Public Safety funding, for police, fire and emergency medical services was reduced by $573,660 or 1.63%, and proposed at $34.5 million.
Then 10-year Capital Plan was restructured, resulting in proposed Pay-Go or cash budgeting for Capital items at $4.5 million, a reduction of $14.3 million from FY 2010, a drop of 76.6%. Debt Service for the coming fiscal year is proposed at $13.12 million, a reduction of $281,370 or 2.1%.
Murray said that the economic downturn was anticipated and steps taken to lessen its impact. Cash reserves were set up, and savings in debt service were seen through refinancing and low interest levels for county-issued bonds, made possible by increases in ratings by bond agencies over the last two years.
The new Tax Differential system takes the place of rebates to the 9 municipalities for services the county did not provide within the City of Hagerstown and the incorporated towns. A portion of each tax dollar is being returned directly to citizens in the form of reductions in the property tax rate. Municipal residents will pay 12.5 cents less per $100 of assessed value. Residents of unincorporated areas will continue to may the current tax rate of 94.8 cents per $100, which is below the Constant Yield rate, and is the same rate that has been in place for 10 years.
The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) continues to provide funding for school construction, road and bridge repair and environmental projects, but the funding level has been reduced to the expended in 2006. Of the proposed CIP budget for 2011 of $55.3 million, over 53%, or $29.1 million will go towards education construction in the form of the Eastern Elementary School and Antietam Academy, several new projects at Hagerstown Community College and the Library renovation/construction project.
Road projects are funded at $14.6 million, Environmental projects use $7.1 million in funding, Transportation projects are proposed at $800,000 and Other projects account for $3.7 million of the total.
Of each tax dollar received by the County, 53 cents goes for education, 15 cents to Public Safety, and 32 cents goes to all other government expenditures. General Government operations accounts for only 5 cents of the tax dollar,
Initiatives and challenges that lie ahead include State budget and Teacher Pension issues, infrastructure in the Robinwood corridor, the continued high unemployment rate, length of the current economic recovery, and continued support for economic development in Washington County.
Less than 100 people attended the hearing, and of the eight speakers, 6 favored the budget as planned and two disagreed with the proposal.
Commission President John F. Barr commended staff on its conservative fiscal policies and its development of the budget proposal.

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