County Comment: Legislative Session Important for County

County Comment
Legislative Session Important for County
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The 2006 session of the Maryland General Assembly will affect a number of issues important to Washington County citizens, including School construction, road maintenance and funding for non profit agencies and Emergency Services.
County Commissioners' President Greg Snook, the incoming First Vice-President of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), also serves as Chair of the organization's Legislative Committee.
Snook says a number of "Big Ticket" items will be up for debate in the legislature this year, affecting Washington County, and the state as a whole.
School Construction funding is the County's top priority, with a goal of one new school to be constructed each year for the next 5 years. Last year the total for school construction in the Governor's Budget and supplemental budget was $250 million statewide. Of that amount Washington County got about $7 million.
"This year the request from MACo is to increase that to $400 million, which would increase our share by another two or three million dollars. What that would do here and in other counties is make sure we can keep up with the renovations and construction of the schools," Snook said. "Our first goal is to construct one new school a year, to make sure we keep up with the growth. Second is to renovate all the existing schools that are in the 40 to 50 year age range."
Although schools receiving initial focus are at the elementary level, a close watch is being kept on both Middle and High Schools as far as additions and renovations due to capacity concerns.
"The Commissioners are addressing those situations, and also working with the School Board to see if some kind of redistricting could take place to help with those pressures as growth occurs, both inside the City limits and outside the City limits," Snook said.
"The second big thing that we want to focus on for the upcoming budget is making sure we have our Pavement Management Plan in place. This is a multi-year plan that we're working on and we put close to $4 million into repaving, repairing and reclaiming about 48 miles of roads this year," Snook said. "I am sure a lot of people are aware that over the last two years the state took all of our Highway User revenues away and placed them into another account, benefiting education. That has caused us to have to play "catch-up" with our roads," he said.
"Recently two County staff members, Jim Hovis, Dan DiVito and myself testified before a legislative committee about Charitable Gaming. Our pitch to them is that the Gaming Commission has been in place for 10 years here in Washington County. It has worked perfectly for all the non-profits and also the Fire and Rescue companies in the County," Snook said.
Snook cited the 2005 payout as the largest ever, a little over three million dollars, split evenly between Fire and Rescue and the 501.c non-profits. The County benefits in terms of providing assistance to vital community programs like shelters, food banks, Boy and Girl Scouts, Little Leagues and a host of other activities, plus support for emergency services, without extra taxes having to be levied.
"Our testimony to the committee showed how, over 10 years, some $28 million has been raised to go back into the community, and every single penny goes back to non-profits. The money needed to provide staffing is raised by fees and licensing, and the County does not have to put any money into the operating of that enterprise," Snook said.
"One of the concerns the state had was that we do not know how the money is being used, but that is not true at all," Snook said. "It has worked well, we have policed ourselves well, and unlike some other counties we know how the money raised has been used," he said.
"I thought the Committee received us very well, and we'll just have to keep our fingers crossed that nothing comes up next session," Snook said.