County Comment: County Takes 2007 Budget to Public Hearing

County Comment
County Takes 2007 Budget to Public Hearing
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners took a proposed $305 million budget for Fiscal Year 2007 to Public Hearing on Tuesday, May 9, 2006, at Kepler Theater on the Hagerstown Community College campus.
County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop presented the budget, as required under the Tax Property Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, Sections 2-205 and 6-308.
Shoop told some two hundred citizens that the proposed balanced budget significantly increases funding for Roads and Schools in Washington County. It returns surplus funds to the citizens through a tax refund, reduces the property tax cap from 10% to 5% effective July 1, 2007, and provides for development of a tax credit program for homeowners, Shoop said. The 2007 budget sets aside funding for development of a workforce housing program, and significantly increases the funding to the Sheriff's Department to recruit and retain highly qualified public safety officers.
The property tax rate remains at 94.8 cents per $100 of full assessed value, the same rate as 2006. Shoop said that rate has not increased since FY 2001.
For 2007, the General Fund budget is $ 177,991,490. The Capital Improvement Fund totals $85,786,546. The Water Quality Fund is $16,019,980. The Solid Waste Fund totals $10,509,860, while the Highway Fund will be $9,325,520. Other Funds account for $5,836,395, with the grand total being $ 305,469,791.
Of the $178 million General Fund (GF) budget, the majority of revenue is generated by property tax. Other sources of revenue are income and recordation taxes, fees, and revenues from grants.
Shoop said that the greatest portion of county GF expenditures, $95.5 million goes for education, and includes Public Schools, the library system and Hagerstown Community College. Public funding for the Sheriff's Department, fire and rescue, and animal control services account for $24.6 million. Courts and State programs, Other Services and Capital and Operating make up the remainder of expenditures in the GF budget.
For FY 20076, a total of $17.1 million in new General Fund revenue is projected to be received by the County, with education and public safety each receiving an increase of $2.9 million. Cash funding of the capital program was significantly increased by $5.7M, which will reduce our borrowing requirements for this coming year. Funding for Courts provides for addition of a fifth circuit court judge.
Of major impact on the lives of county residents will be a multi-stage tax relief program, totaling $9 million over a four-year period. Shoop said that surpluses from the fiscal year 2005 and 2006 budgets would be refunded to homeowners by check, in the amount of $150. The proposed County Homeowner's Tax Credit Program allows a tax credit to households whose income is below a standard set by the State. The County will join with the state homeowners tax credit program to help reduce the tax burden for persons with low and fixed incomes. $1 million has been allocated to this program in the coming fiscal year. A property tax cap reduction helps homeowners deal with large assessment increases. The County Commissioners have lowered the homestead property tax credit from 10% to 5%, and the credit is applied against the tax due on the portion of the reassessment exceeding 5% from one year to the next. The impact of this change will be seen on the tax bills that go out in July 2007.
Excise taxes will provide $11.8 million for new schools and $2.79 million for road improvements in FY 2007.
The 6-year capital budget provides for construction of four new schools, Pangborn Elementary, Westfield Elementary and Maugansville Elementary, as well as an Elementary school to be built in the Eastern portion of Hagerstown. Renovations and additions to existing structures and Facility Maintenance funds amount to $133.85 million in County spending during that 6-year period.
Shoop said that the Commissioners added a significant increase to the Road Rehabilitation program, with $28 million in funding over the 6-year capital budget period.
Twenty-four citizens spoke on differing topics at the hearing, which was cablecast on ACTV channel 99. Written comments will be taken for a ten-day period. Those wishing to comment in writing should address letters to Commissioners, 100 West Washington Street, Hagerstown Maryland, 21740, or use the Board's email address:
The Commissioners are scheduled to review and adopt the proposed budget on May 23rd the regularly scheduled meeting.