County Comment: Good News: More Money for County Schools, Parks

County Comment
Good News: More Money for County Schools, Parks
by Norman Bassett, Washington County Public Information Officer

Each year the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) holds a winter meeting just prior to the opening of the legislative session. County officials and staff from across Maryland hear about issues that will get attention from the legislature, and about proposed state budgets.
Washington County Commissioner Dori Nipps attended the meetings and returned with good news for school construction and renovations and other educational needs, as well as parks and recreation.
The Governor's budget contains $281 million for new schools statewide and $462 million for other K-12 needs. "The positive about that is that Washington County may be able to get about 6 million dollars or maybe even more, depending on how things break out for school construction," Nipps said.
"Our hope is if we're starting out at $281 million this year, then there is a possibility that could go up. There has been a request from MACo for $400 million to go into school construction because there is such a backlog of projects throughout the state that the $281 million, even though it's a very nice amount, is not going to meet those needs," she said.
Affordable housing is an issue of concern in Washington County and across Maryland. A MACo workshop addressed how one Montgomery County community is tackling the issue, Nipps said.
Commissioners heard about the City of Rockville's plan to have part of developments that are going through the approval process set aside a portion of the housing units for affordable, work-force housing. That plan would build a "stock" of properties that, when re-sold, would be purchased by others who could qualify for affordable housing programs.
"We have asked the Mayor of Rockville to send us information on that program, so we don't have to re-invent the wheel when we look at the final plan of what we would like to do," Nipps said. Rockville's plan has been in place for several years and has been successful, "We think maybe they've got something there that we seriously need to look at."
Program Open Space funding, state money for parks and recreational areas, was also on the agenda, Nipps said.
"There is a feeling within the state that Program Open Space funding will be above the million dollar allotment for Washington County this year," Nipps said. "That would bring us up to where we had been several years ago, so our great hope is that the money will be there. The State has done very well. The deficit continues to get smaller, although the surplus from this past year, according to the Governor, will go into education."
Plans are to fully fund the recommendations made three years ago by the Thornton Commission on Education, which called for much higher percentages of the bill for public schools to be borne by the state.
"I think that's probably a good use of a surplus, to try to educate kids," Nipps said.