Jay Fergusonjay@deepcreekvacations.com301-501-0420

Tight state budget hitting Allegany, Garrett County

Kevin Spradlin
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget does not spare local governments, including Garrett and Allegany counties, from cuts in aid.

Details of the proposed budget, which takes effect July 1, were released Wednesday. As anticipated, both counties’ disparity grants and highway user revenue funds took hits, although most county aid programs will be flat-funded.

The disparity grant originally was worth nearly $7.3 million but O’Malley and the state Board of Public Works cut that by $1.267 million. The disparity grants are distributed to subdivisions whose per-capita income revenues are less than 75 percent of the statewide average.

“Well, the wealth of the state has declined,” said Jerry Frantz, director of finance for Allegany County government. “So, 75 percent of a lesser number is less disparity.”

One change this year is that regardless of what the disparity might be, the grant money cannot exceed 2010 levels. Allegany County’s disparity grant could be $6.03 million while Garrett County could receive $2.05 million.

“We’re not the only ones,” Frantz said. “All in all, it’s down $24.3 million. That’s 20 percent. We’re going down 17 percent.”

Under O’Malley’s proposed budget, Allegany County would receive $138,000 in Program Open Space funds and Garrett County would get $70,000. Funding for local health programs would include $909,000 for Allegany County and $437,000 for Garrett County.

Frantz said the highway user revenue was so important in previous years that his office created a special revenue fund for accounting purposes. That’s to be eliminated this year because the appropriation, formerly between $5 million and $6 million, is now “down to next to nothing.”

Any highway user revenue now will be deposited into the county’s general fund because, after state cuts, all the road work is “practically paid for by the general fund,” Frantz said.

One item not in O’Malley’s proposal is money for new voting machines. The omission could save the state and counties each about $9 million this year.

A full analysis of O’Malley’s proposed budget wasn’t available. Frantz said he typically waits for the Maryland Association of Counties, an Annapolis-based nonprofit corporation that advocates local governments’ interests, to release its analysis.

“It’s going to be another extremely difficult budget,” Frantz said. “And I think that 2012 may even be worse. I don’t see much light right now… I think there may be worse things coming.”

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