County Comment: FY 2009 County Budget Highlights

County Comment
FY 2009 County Budget Highlights
by Norman Bassett, Public Information Officer
Washington County, Maryland

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners took its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2009, balanced at $338,411,920 to Public Hearing, as required by state law, on Tuesday, May 13th on the campus of Hagerstown Community College (HCC).
County Administrator Gregory B. Murray explained the proposed revenues and expenditures in detail to a gathering of approximately 100 citizens and those watching at home over Antietam Cable Channel 99.
The FY '09 budget begins funding of Phase II of the Emergency Services Plan,
provides funding for the new Central Booking facility, provides funding for primary and secondary education improvements, provides significant funding for roads, and public safety projects, maintains manageable debt levels, and maintains a balanced budget, without a structural deficit.
Murray told the audience that the general fund reflects an overall increase of 5.76% or $11.3 million. Of that 5.76%, the Commissioners used 2.75% to fund base line increases, such as fuel, electric, and wage increases; 1.41% went to road and educational construction project costs in the form of cash; 1.27% was used to fund increased costs for service level changes, mainly related to public safety. The county provided new positions for fire and rescue services and the Sheriff's operations; and the remaining .32% was applied to new programs and services, such as operating costs for a Senior Center and the new central booking facility.
Murray said that historically a majority of new revenue has been distributed to three main areas-- Education, Public Safety, and Capital Improvements. Operating costs for FY 2009 reflect a 2.72% increase.
The FY 2009 budget for Public Safety reflects a 15.12% or $4.3 million increase in operations. Education including the Board of Education, HCC, Health Nurses, and Libraries shows a 3.31% or $3.3 million increase in operations.
Increases in the capital budget are related to cash contributed towards construction projects and reflect a 14% or $2.8 million increase, and, of the overall 2.72% operating increase, which includes State and non-profit agencies, only 1.93% or $386,000 was for County internal operating departments such as public works, parks, permits and inspections, economic development and administrative departments. Murray praised County Division and Department heads for eliminating costs and striving for a ":flat budget" for the coming year.
The Capital Plan (CIP) projects funding for Education at $225.5 million or 43% of the budget; Public safety at $35.3 million or 7%; Roads at $123 million or 21%; and Environmental Management at $106 million or 20%.
The CIP for
Education includes funding for projects such as Eastern Primary, East City High School, Bester Elementary replacement and Antietam Academy, as well as a major continued reduction in the capital and deferred maintenance backlog which has been reduced from a previous estimate of $80 million to the current estimate of $49 million.
The Public Safety CIP includes funding for the new Central Booking Facility and Phase I of the Emergency Housing Unit at the Detention Center.
Capital expenses for Roads includes projects such as yearly pavement maintenance, the Robinwood Corridor, Southern Boulevard, and Eastern Boulevard widening and extension.
Environmental Management's CIP includes funds for the capping of Resh landfill, new landfill cell construction, and Enhanced Nutrient Removal upgrades as required by State Law.
The projected funding for the County's 6-year Capital Plan includes local funds of $331.5 million or 70%, and Grants of $147.4 million or 30%. In the local portion $34.4 million or 7.2% is from excise tax revenue and $297.2 million or 62% is from other sources such as cash, bonds, and transfer tax.
The Capital program for Educational projects over the next six years reflects funding from the State of Maryland at $74.6m or 34%, while local funding is projected at $148 million or 66%, Murray said.
The proposed tax supported debt levels in this years' budget reflect a reduction in proposed borrowing of over $8 million. The initial requirement for FY '09 and borrowing of over $20 million that would have occurred in the upcoming fiscal year was reduced through budget workshop sessions to $12 million through restructuring project requests and using cash funding of projects.
Debt service cost is an important measure in analyzing what the County can afford to borrow each year. This ratio is one of many the County uses to determine the maximum debt issuance per year that is "affordable". The County projects the actual debt service cost ratio to remain under both the peer group target and the national median for all twenty years of bond life. This is an important measure and one viewed very closely by the rating agencies, he said.
The total proposed budget for all funds for FY 2009 is $338.4 million, an increase of $32.1 million or 10.5%, Murray concluded.
Citizens voiced opinions both for and against the proposed budget.
The Commissioners will take written comments at Commissioners Budget Comment, 100 West Washington Street, Hagerstown Maryland, 21740 or by email at
Final approval of the budget is scheduled to take place in early June.