Board of Commissioners' Actions: Commissioners approve senior tax break

Board of Commissioners' Actions
Commissioners approve senior tax break, review budgets, move water and sewer rates to public hearing

In its regular meeting on March 22nd, 2011, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners amended a regulation providing property tax breaks for Senior citizens age 65 and above.
The Senior Tax Credit, which currently excludes persons 70 years and above who have limited incomes from County property tax, was changed to allow the same credit starting at age 65. The income limit is $12,000 per year.
County Treasurer Todd Hershey told the Board that the change would cost about $12,000 per year. Consensus was reached to move ahead with that change. A formal resolution will be developed and brought to the Commissioners for a vote.
Hershey also requested, and received consensus from the Board, to repeal an ordinance giving non-homeowner occupied properties tax breaks. Hershey told the Board that continuing the program would cost the County about $18,000, and that the 16 properties which stood to be affected would probably not be eligible.
The measure was put into place to benefit property owners in the City of Hagerstown that were subject to the final round of state assessments, last year.
Both actions came as part of the review of budgets for Capital Improvement Projects and Revenue Projections for Fiscal Year 2012 as presented by Budget Committee members.
Commissioners reached consensus to move the Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) budget to Public Hearing in May, after a second round draft was reviewed by line item.
Highlights of the $54.3 million budget include $3.6 million for bridges, $10.3 million for Board of Education projects, $3.18 million for Hagerstown Community College, $8.2 million for the Library Renovation and Construction, $10.7 for Road Improvements including $3 million for Pavement Maintenance, and $11.2 million for Water Quality projects.
An adjustment favored by the Commissioners was movement of initial phases of the Professional Court/Antietam Bridge project ahead in the priority rankings.
Borrowing of $14 million was authorized to support fully funding the CIP, which includes major infrastructure projects such as new schools, the Library renovation and the Senior Center.
County property tax rates would remain at present levels for FY 2012.
Commissioners also heard how staff intends to deal with a $7.4 million shortfall in the FY '12 operating budget. Budget and Finance Director Debra Murray cited state cuts in aid to counties as well as reductions in tax revenues, plus increases in operating budget requests from the Fire and Rescue Association, health insurance increases, education costs and debt service as factors.
To deal with that deficit, the County made cuts of $1.6 million in department and agency requests, reduced the education request by $2.8 million, used $1.18 million in Capital Savings, $1.2 million in cash savings, and $601,850 in Preset Debt Issuance.
All budget line items will be reviewed prior to the budget Public Hearing, in May.
Rates for water and sewer service were outlined, and requested to increase by 3.5% and 4% respectively.
Division of Environmental Management Director Julie Pippel outlined increases of $4.80 per quarter for the average residential homeowner using 12,000 gallons per quarter, and $5.02 per quarter for the same amount of sewer usage.
The Water Quality fund rates were approved to be taken to Public Hearing in April.
In other actions, the week of March 20th through the 26th was proclaimed Poison Prevention Week in Washington County. Commissioner John Barr presented the proclamation to Stephanie Stone of the Community Partnership for Children and Youth in honor of a coalition of agencies in Washington County that help make the public aware of the dangers of poisons in the home and on the job.
Tuesday, March 22nd marked Diabetes Alert Day across the nation. Lisa McCoy and Rod McRae of the Washington County Health Department told the Commissioners that the American Diabetes Association Diabetes Alert Day is a national campaign to increase the awareness of diabetes and its risk factors in communities across the nation. This day is a one-day "wake - up call" asking the American public to take the Diabetes Risk Test to find out if they are at risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes. March 22nd kicks off the national "Join the Million Challenge" to get 1 million people to take the Diabetes Risk Test.
The Board expressed its support for the Arts and Entertainment Marketing, Economic Impact and Artist Studies to be conducted County-wide. Jim Miller and Mary Ann Burke told the Board that the Arts, Education, and Entertainment Task Force is a recently formed group that includes representatives from many of the Arts organizations in the community looking to help build the reputation of Hagerstown and Washington County as an Arts destination.
The Task Force is conducting three complementary studies around marketing; economic impact; and Artists. The Sage Policy Group, led by Economist Anirban Basu, was identified to complete the Marketing and Economic impact portions of the study at a cost of $22,000. Frostburg State University was selected to complete the Artists study through its graduate level Marketing Program at no cost. All costs have been covered through community organization donations.
Commissioners approved a grant application for the "State's Attorney's Office Mediation Project" requested through the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office (MACRO) for Caseworker Salary in the amount of $35,200.
State's Attorney Charles Strong and Alternate Sanctions Office Director Sharon Cunningham told the Board that the State's Attorney's Office has partnered with the Washington County Community Mediation Center for the last four years in an effort to resolve minor criminal matters through mediation. The goal of mediation is to bring interested parties together to hopefully resolve underlying issues and prevent the filing of future criminal charges. A Caseworker at the Mediation Center oversees cases referred to the center by the State's Attorney's Alternative Sanctions Diversion Program, manages all cases, arranges the mediation appointments and acts as a liaison to defense attorneys while maintaining confidentiality for each case in all respects. The Caseworker keeps accurate records and reports the outcome of the mediation session to the Alternative Sanctions Office.
The Board approved two Division of Emergency Services Grants. The Federal Fiscal Year (FFY) 2010 State Homeland Security Program (SHSP) grant of $322,386.00 provides funds to build / expand capabilities within Washington County and to implement the goals and objectives included in state homeland security strategies and initiatives. The $97,376.00 FFY 2010 Emergency Management Performance Grant from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) enhances and strengthens emergency management capabilities at the state and local level, and provides funding to offset personnel, operational and training expenses for local emergency management operations.
Acceptance was authorized for the Emergency Number System Board (ENSB) grant award for the back-up Emergency Communications Center phone system in the amount of $607,399.00.
Emergency Communications Director Bardonna Woods told the Board that the ENSB falls under Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services with a fifteen-member board overseeing activities of the organization. The mission of the board is to manage the "911 fee" assessed on all land-based and cellular connections in Maryland. The current fee in Washington County is $1.00. The ESNB returns 75 cents to the respective County to cover operational costs and the remaining 25 cents is held in a statewide account and awarded for special projects.
Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham introduced Maryland Veteran of the Year Fred Shinbur of Hagerstown. Shinbur, Chair of the Maryland Veterans' Commission thanked the Board for its recognition of his selection. Shinbur said that the support the Commissioners give to Maryland Veterans is vitally important. Callaham presented proclamations to Shinbur during ceremonies in Bowie, Maryland recently.
Under Citizens Participation, Jim Devine of Hagerstown commented on emergency communications and Hagerstown Community College.
In Other Business, Appointments to Boards and Commissions included reappointment of Clint Wiley to a second, five-year term on the Washington County Planning Commission. Christopher Horst was appointed to a second, three-year term on the Historic District Commission. Robert Bowman Kurt Cushwa and Christine Toms were appointed to three-year terms on that Commission.
County Administrator Greg Murray commented that the Commissioners will make an appearance at Valley Mall on Saturday March 26th from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. The Board wants to take the time to interact with the community in an informal setting. Any questions about County Government may be asked of the Commissioners, Murray said.
In Staff Comments, Human Resources Director Bill Sonnik requested approval to advertise a Zoning Inspector position in the Division of Plan Review and Permitting. The Board authorized filling that position at Grade 11.
Public Works Director Joe Kroboth distributed a list of roads scheduled for upgrades in the Pavement Maintenance program that resumes for the spring and summer construction season. The information will be posted to the County website so that citizens can see if their road or street is scheduled for paving. The Division of Public Works has received a $600,000 grant from the Safe Routes to School program for installation of sidewalks along routes to Lincolnshire Elementary School.
Division of Environmental Management Deputy Director Dan Divito introduced Rob Smith and Ed Parker, who were responsible for inspections at the new Meritus Health Center. Recently, the Permits Department received a plaque thanking the members for outstanding work in providing inspection services for the new hospital facility.
The Board approved three property acquisitions along Robinwood Drive. Real Property Administrator Joie Kuhna told the Board that small parcels of property at 11310, 11314 and 11106 Robinwood Drive are needed for widening of that road, and that the total amount of the transactions is $90,958.00, from the current Capital Improvement Projects budget.
Commissioners granted Express Approval to the Town of Sharpsburg to annex 0.54 acres of land located at 5142 Harper's Ferry Road, adjacent to the south and east of the existing town boundaries at the southwest corner of High Street and Harper's Ferry Road. The property was subject of an Application for Annexation considered and approved by the Mayor and Town Council in 1997, but due to an administrative error, the property was never formally annexed into the Town and the Town's corporate boundaries were never formally enlarged to include the property. However, the property in question has been listed on the Town tax rolls, has received Town services, and the Owner has paid Town taxes since 1997. The County maps show the property within the Town corporate boundaries.
The zoning is not consistent with the existing County zoning designation, and the action corrected that administrative error.