With Washington County looking at a $35 million budget surplus, residents are suggesting options that range from tax refunds to new schools.
The Washington County commissioners have earmarked most of the money for capital projects and other county needs.
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They also set aside $3 million to help nonprofit organizations, and they have allocated about $1 million of that. They have said they need a better system for distributing the funds.
They plan to take up the nonprofit issue at their meeting Tuesday, Sept. 27.
‘Mechanics’ of a tax refund
At the same time, some are suggesting a potential tax refund.
Commissioner Wayne Keefer raised the refund issue during this week’s meeting. He asked if the county staff could report on “the mechanics of how that would work.”
“Whether we go down that path or not, that’s for the full board (of commissioners) to decide. But I would like to know the process of how that works, how we might calculate an amount, what that might be and just the cost it would be for us,” Keefer said.
He said that, unlike a business, government does not exist to make a profit.
Wally McClure of Hagerstown took up that idea during a time for comments from citizens. He said taxpayers should receive some money back.
McClure, who was on the 2018 Republican primary ballot as a county commissioner candidate, suggested the commissioners adopt a policy for dealing with a budget surplus.
He said he didn’t think most taxpayers would have a problem with the county spending or investing a surplus of something like 3% of the budget, roughly $7.5 million in his example.
“When you’re looking at $35 million, I think it needs to be returned to the source,” he said.
Where did the money come from?
With employers hiring and property values rising the past several months, the income tax and registration tax raised more revenue than budgeted for the 2022 fiscal year, according to Kelcee Mace, interim chief financial officer and deputy director of budget and finance.
The recording tax of $3.80 per $500 applies to documents that transfer an interest in real estate, such as a deed or easement, as well as instruments that create a security interest on real or personal property, such as a mortgage or deed of trust, according to the Washington County Clerk’s office website.
The county also finished its 2021 fiscal year with a budget surplus for similar reasons.
‘Land acquisition for new schools’
Since the commissioners allocated the $3 million for nonprofits, they have heard from several organizations requesting money. This week, representatives of the Women’s Club of Hagerstown and San Mar Family and Community Services came to this week’s commissioners’ meeting seeking money for building repairs and renovations.
And three teachers came to seek funding for public schools.
Neil Becker, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, pointed to what he called the aging and crowded conditions at some schools. The county has not built a new comprehensive middle school or high school in decades, he said.
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“We continue, as a school system and a county, to Band-Aid our facilities to keep them open, many at or above capacity, while this board (of commissioners) and the boards subordinate to it approve new businesses and new homes, which means more people. More people means more students,” he said.
“More students, in this current climate, means crowded classrooms without the services those students deserve.”
He asked the commissioners “to seriously consider land acquisition for new schools in Washington County.”
What happens next?
Next week, the commissioners plan to work on a system to allocate funds to nonprofits.
County Administrator John Martirano reiterated that staff members are already handling several similar programs. He said the commissioners could consider funneling some of the money into those existing programs aimed at helping nonprofits.
“I think a process is definitely the way we should go. Either that, or put money in existing programs,” he said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but we can start having that discussion next week. And I would appreciate any thoughts that the commissioners had about what those criteria would be.”
Mike Lewis covers business, the economy and other issues. Follow Mike on Twitter: @MiLewis.