- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 20, 2005

OCEAN CITY — Maryland county officials at their annual summer conference here last week had a short wish list for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and the legislature — more money for school construction and local transportation projects.

“Counties have been part of the solution to the state budget problems” the last three years, said David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties. “With the state doing better, I’d like to see the state help us out a little.”

Nelson Bolender of Cecil County, president of the organization of officials from the 23 counties and Baltimore, said money for roads is a big issue in rural counties.

Local governments saw their share of highway funds cut by $245.4 million over the last three years as Mr. Ehrlich and the legislature struggled to balance a state budget hit hard by sluggish revenue growth resulting from the national economic recession.

“I would like to see the governor give us more money for transportation,” said Tom Cetola, a Republican commissioner for Worcester County.

The cuts in aid “hurt our county a great deal,” he said.

Counties use the state transportation aid for projects such as repairing local roads, installing sidewalks and snow removal.

James Stakem, president of the Allegany County commissioners, also put a high priority on transportation funding.

“In our county, we have so much snow removal,” said Mr. Stakem, a Democrat. “We are pretty much down to the bone. That’s why the transportation funds are so important.”

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, reduced local transportation aid by $120.3 million in his first budget and by $102.4 million his second year in office.

Last year, keeping a promise he made to counties, he restored the funding to normal levels, but the Democratic-controlled legislature cut $22.7 million to help keep the governor’s budget within state spending guidelines.

County officials at least want the full amount of money due them, and would like the state to start paying back some of the dollars they lost during the last three years.

Money for school construction is also a major issue with county officials.

“It’s the issue everyone is fixated on,” Mr. Bliden said.

Mr. Bolender, a Democrat, said Cecil County is spending $43 million to renovate and expand a high school. The state is kicking in $16 million, but the county had to come up with the remaining $27 million.

A task force headed by State Treasurer Nancy Kopp, a Democrat, said there is a $3.9 billion backlog of construction and renovation needs just to bring schools up to minimum standards. Her task force recommended an increase in state aid to $250 million a year to help clear away the backlog.

Mr. Ehrlich proposed spending $157 million in the current budget, but the legislature increased the amount to the $250 million recommended by the Kopp commission.

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