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County Comment: Commissioners Vote to Take '07 Budget to Hearing

County Comment
Commissioners Vote to Take '07 Budget to Hearing
Approve Tax Rebates and Other Actions
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

In its regular meeting on April 25, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners voted to take the proposed balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2007 to Public Hearing, May 9 at 7:00PM at Kepler Theater on the Hagerstown Community College Campus.
The budget is balanced at $178.6 million, with a total of $95.5 million for all educational expenses. Of that sum, K-12 education would receive $86.3 million in operating costs. Public Safety would receive $24.5 million. Operating and Capital Transfers would see $18.3 million. All other County Government Programs would receive $40.3 million. The motion was approved on a 3-2 vote with Commissioners John Munson and Bill Wivell casting "no" votes.
As part of the budget discussion, Staff discussed options for tax relief or rebates. Cutting tax rates would not benefit the County's strong financial position, a letter from Financial Adviser Lester Guthorn advised.
Surplus from the FY 2005 budget and projected surplus from the current fiscal year budget of $5 million had been discussed as tax relief for citizens. Recently passed State legislation stipulates that the County only has the authority to grant tax credits or rebates to homeowner-occupied homes. The Commissioners and staff discussed the pros and cons of several options including tax credits, tax rebates and tax rate reductions. After discussion, Commissioner Jim Kercheval made a motion to approve a tax rebate of $5 million from the FY '05 and FY '06 surpluses to be disbursed to approximately 33,000 owner-occupied homes, at a flat rate of $150 per household by mailed check. The measure was approved by unanimous vote.
Prior to approving the FY '07 budget to go to Public Hearing, Kercheval requested that a $1 million "placeholder" be added to the proposed budget for a County enhancement of the State's homeowner's tax credit program as proposed by Commissioner Dori Nipps. The current State program offers tax relief to income-qualified homeowners and renters. Details of the program enhancement would be worked out at a later time. The request was approved on a 3-2 vote.
The motion to take the proposed County budget, as amended, to public hearing on May 9th was approved on a 3-2 vote with Commissioners Munson and Wivell voting "no". That hearing will be cablecast on Antietam Cable TV's Channel 19.
April 23-29 was National County Government Week across America. The theme of this year's recognition is "Protecting Our Communities", and the Commissioners designated the week as such in Washington County by proclamation, honoring police, firefighters, emergency management personnel and public health professionals.
Accepting the proclamation from Commissioner John Munson were Sheriff Charles Mades and Colonel Doug Mullendore from the County Sheriff's Department; Roy Lescalleet, John Bentley, Verna Brown and Cecil Bittinger of the Division of Fire and Emergency Services; County Health Officer Bill Christoffel; Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association President Glenn Fucsick; and Sgt. Mark Holtzman and Officer Chad Woodring of the Joint County/City Special Response Team (SRT).

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