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Md. municipalities seek more state road funds

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HAGERSTOWN | Maryland cities and towns will renew their push for more state money for road work and police in next year's General Assembly, leaders of the Maryland Municipal League said Friday.

The group representing 157 municipalities discussed legislative priorities at their fall meeting in Hagerstown. Executive Director Scott Hancock and Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis, league president, said full restoration of shared state revenue for roads and law enforcement is at the top of the group's wish list.

"This is the highest priority, there's no question," Mr. Hancock said.

In recent years, the General Assembly has diverted much of the revenue from gasoline taxes and other highway user fees to balancing the state budget rather than sharing it with municipalities. The league said the amount shared with municipalities plunged from $45 million in 2008 to $1.6 million in 2011. Last year's General Assembly reinstated some of what was lost, bringing the municipalities' share to $9.9 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

"This is how they maintain the roads and how they plow the snow. Everything a public works function does, this is how they pay for it," Mr. Hancock said.

Shared police aid has also been reduced, from $12.1 million in 2008 to $8.9 million in each of the last three years, making municipalities more reliant on property taxes to finance local services.

Another league proposal would allow municipalities to post legal notices online to reduce their newspaper advertising costs. State law requires publication of local government legal notices in general-circulation newspapers, costing some cities tens of thousands of dollars annually.

Mr. Hancock said declining newspaper circulation underscores the need to use what he called "21st century media" for such notices. He said the group has approached the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, a newspaper trade group, about a possible compromise requiring newspaper publication of a short advertisement referring readers to a website containing the legal notice.

Press association spokesman T.C. Cameron said the 126-member newspaper group generally opposes such proposals.

"Newspapers have a long and rich history of being the voice of the people and for the people," he said. "Our member newspapers are well-known in their respective communities for their ability to be an independent voice between government and the constituents the government is supposed to serve."

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