Hearings scheduled for State Lakes Protection Fund bills

ANNAPOLIS — The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee has scheduled a public hearing for Senate Bill 501, “State Lakes Protection and Restoration Fund — Purpose, Use, and Funding — Alterations,” for 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13, in Annapolis.

SB 501 calls for the governor to include $3 million for the fund in the annual budget, beginning with Fiscal Year 2020 and each fiscal year thereafter.

Deep Creek Lake is the largest of Maryland’s 16 owned/operated lakes.

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Garrett County schools retain carryover funds

Elaine BlaisdellCumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — The Garrett County Commission voted unanimously Monday to approve the county board of education’s request to retain $820,868 in carryover funds. The funds, which were from fiscal 2013, can be used as a one-time expense only for prioritized projects, according to commission chairman Robert Gatto.

Leaky roofs at both the former Dennett Road Elementary School and Southern High School are the No. 1 prioritized projects, according to Janet Wilson, county superintendent of schools. The board requested $315,000 for replacing a section of roof over the information technology department that the county and board share at the former school. The request also includes an $18,800 roof repair over the media center area at Southern High School where a hot asphalt treatment is needed immediately to repair it, according to Wilson. The repair will last two to three years.

“We maintain Dennett Road because we have some debt on it,” said Wilson. “That has turned out to be a huge community asset. The gym is used daily, the cafeteria is used a significant amount. One of the things we said, we will put the roof on that portion of the building because we maintain, we own it, we understand we are responsible for it.”

Dennett Road has a $140,214 construction debt that has eight years remaining.

Dennett Road and Kitzmiller elementary schools closed last year as a cost-cutting measure.

Another project high on the priority list is a $45,270 air conditioner replacement/repair at Yough Glades and Bradford elementary schools. Also high on the priority list is a $5,000 architectural study of Southern Middle School and its viability to potentially support elementary and middle school students.

During the meeting, one resident suggested looking at the salaries that make up 80 percent of the board’s budget. The board was able to save money through unemployment, insurance benefits, instructional supplies and materials, substitutes and salary savings.

“When I came aboard, I asked that all staff positions be held until I could review them,” said Wilson.

The fiscal 2013 budget planned for unemployment for about 35 staff members who were subject to reduction in force and that money wasn’t used, according to Wilson.

“I think that it’s very important that all of us are good stewards of taxpayers’ money,” said Wilson “I think it’s important that when we have extra money to let county government know.”

The board is again facing financial difficulties because of the state’s wealth formula. The commissioners met with Lillian Lowery, Maryland state superintendent of schools, in the spring and sent a letter to her asking her to look for short-term solutions. The wealth formula will be looked at in the fall of 2014 and won’t be included until 2016, and contingency plans need to be made in case it doesn’t come through, according to Wilson.

Sen. George Edwards has also sent a letter to Gov. Martin O’Malley asking for short-term and immediate solutions prior to the legislative session. Wilson worked on the letter with Edwards and included the fact that the county has lost nearly 20 percent of its state funding since 2009.

State funding is eroding because of the enrollment numbers, which have dropped, according to Raley. The school system is facing a potential $2.2 million loss in state funding, according to Wilson.

Several residents at the meeting indicated that they would leave the area or home school their children if things don’t improve with the school system. Some residents voiced concerns about overcrowding at Broadford Elementary and the commissioners agreed to visit the school in the future.

“I think it’s important that we have schools that attract people to the area,” said Charlotte Sebold, board member. “It’s very important that we all go out and tell people how great our county is.”

The letter also mentions the hurdle that the school system faces in the geography and topography of the county, 600 miles of county roads translate to 6,000 miles a day for bus services and high transportation costs.

“That’s a standard that sets Garrett County apart from most other jurisdictions,” said Wilson. “Moving down the road, if we again have to do a reduction in force and cause further building closures I can only anticipate transportation costs will increase.”

Jeff Connor of Fike, Conner & Associates CPAs urged everyone else to send a letter to O’Malley.

“We can’t keep doing this over and over. So we are going to have to go to the state level,” said Conner. “More school closings or school consolidations are just not palatable.”

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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