County Comment: Surplus Benefits Schools, Roads, Seniors and Citizens

County Comment
Surplus Benefits Schools, Roads, Seniors and Citizens
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

Schools will get new heating and air conditioning systems, more County roads will be pothole-free, the Commission on Aging will get new office space and Citizens will get a tax break as part of a record $12 million surplus allocation announced in the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, September 20.
New construction and home sales contributed to the surplus, as did extra income tax collections resulting from high-wage earners relocating to Washington County, interest revenue rising as the result of economic conditions, service fees for permits and police services and grant income.
Each year Budget and Finance Director Debra Murray brings the budget adjustment report for the past fiscal year to the Board for approval and disbursement.
Originally, Murray made recommendations for allocations that would provide the Board of Education $3.5 million for deferred maintenance projects; an additional $1 million for road maintenance and rehabilitation; $2.18 million for expected cost increases for construction materials for projects now underway; $4 million to the County's cash reserve; $1 million for Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) part 45 regulations, and $320,000 for the Commission on Aging. Murray told the Board that recent hurricanes have made the cost of construction materials increase and there is an expectation that blacktop needed for roads projects will also increase in cost.
Under Murray's plan the $4 million set-aside in a restricted operating reserve would bring the reserve to approximately 14-15%, up from 12.3%. The County's target is 17%. Murray stressed that the surplus funds came from recordation tax, additions to the income tax base, bond interest and service fee income and not from property taxes.
Commissioners' President Snook said the surplus is related to growth and a booming housing market. Those people making 6-figure salaries in Montgomery County and Northern Virginia who are moving into Washington County bring with them higher levels of income tax payments. The result is a higher income tax base, and additional revenue for Washington County.
Commissioner Wivell requested discussion of a plan that would allow County taxpayers a one-time lump sum refund as other Maryland counties have done. The refund, pf about $50.00, could come in the form of a check to taxpayers, or in a reduction to next year's property tax bill.
A motion was put forth to set aside $2 million of the surplus funds, to be taken from the projected construction materials increase, cash reserves and GASB regulation funding, and have Budget and Finance report on the cost to the County of issuing checks. That report would be expected in about two weeks. The increases for schools, roads and aging would not be affected by the refund.
Funding for School maintenance projects would replace aging air conditioning and a chiller tower at Northern Middle School, complete asbestos abatement and lighting projects at Williamsport High School, provide new boilers for Winter Street Elementary, Sharpsburg Elementary and Smithsburg High schools, provide new lighting at Hancock High, and perform electrical work at Clear Spring High School.
The comprehensive Pavement Maintenance Program would be increased to nearly $5 million for paving and road reclamation projects from now through next summer.
The Commission on Aging (COA) funds would provide 70% of money needed to "build- out" office space at the Aspiring to Serve building on Franklin Street. The remaining 30% would come from Appalachian Regional Commission grants administered by the Tri-County Council. COA has been faced with doubled rent, accessibility and fire safety issues in its current location on the square in Hagerstown. Receipt of the surplus funds allows the Commission to go ahead with its plans to move the offices to the new location.
In making the recommendation for the tax refund, Commissioner Bill Wivell talked about working families being "squeezed" by high gas prices and other cost-of-living increases and said taxpayers should get something back from the surplus.