The Washington County Board of Commissioners Tuesday voted 4-1 to approve a capital improvement budget that includes an extension of Yale Drive through Mount Aetna Farms but delays the Funkstown bypass project known as Southern Boulevard.
The "no" vote came from Commissioners President Terry Baker, who opposed the level of borrowing in the plan and has spoken out against using taxpayer funds to extend Yale Drive.
Residents filled the audience during the vote, many of them holding signs in support of a senior center project, while others sported signs protesting roads through Mount Aetna Farms.
The senior center project was preserved in the capital budget despite a comment from Commissioner William B. McKinley, who said he would prefer to invest in multiple senior centers throughout the county rather than one large one at Hagerstown Community College.
McKinley said he didn't think enough seniors would use the HCC center to justify the project's $5.8 million price tag.
That suggestion did not win support from any other commissioners, but McKinley did sway the group with a suggestion to reduce borrowing by delaying funds for Southern Boulevard.
Under the plan the commissioners approved, design work and right-of-way acquisition will continue for Southern Boulevard, but the project will receive no new funding in the coming fiscal year, delaying construction until at least fiscal 2013.
That decision reduced the county's capital budget for fiscal 2012 to about $49.5 million, down from the roughly $51.4 million that had been proposed.
It also reduced the amount of tax-supported borrowing required for fiscal 2012 to about $12.1 million, down from $14 million that had been proposed.
The first phase of Southern Boulevard, which will connect East Oak Ridge Drive with Frederick Street (U.S. Alternate 40), is about 75 percent designed but has been delayed while the county acquires right of way for a roundabout intersection, Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III said.
Baker told the other commissioners that he had devised a plan to reduce borrowing to $7 million, but refused to list the projects he would cut or delay to get to that amount.
"I don't think we have a revenue problem; I think we have a spending problem," Baker said, encouraging the other commissioners to agree to a lowered borrowing level before discussing which projects to cut.
Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham stressed that the county has a responsible approach to borrowing, paying off debt each year and using excess revenue for capital projects in good years to reduce borrowing.
The Yale Drive project was included in the approved capital budget, but the commissioners did not discuss it during the meeting. Several commissioners said afterward that they supported the project because of the need for a second way in and out of HCC and the need to improve traffic through the Robinwood corridor.
The project, which would extend Yale Drive from behind Meritus Medical Center to a new back entrance to HCC, is expected to cost $9.3 million total over several years.
No county funds are budgeted to go toward the Yale Drive project in fiscal 2012, but grant funding and funds previous budgeted for connecting Varsity Lane to HCC will be used to begin the project, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.
If design and right-of-way acquisition go smoothly, construction of Yale Drive could begin as soon as mid to late summer 2012, Kroboth said.
Gift to developer?
Baker has been joined by former commissioner candidate Joe Lane and other members of Citizens for the Protection of Washington County in arguing that a taxpayer-funded Yale Drive is an inappropriate gift to the developer of the land between the medical center and the college, known as Mount Aetna Farms.
The Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF, is in the process of buying that land for a technology park.
Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline said after the meeting that one reason he supported Yale Drive was "to encourage growth and development and create jobs."
A county-funded road through the site is a local incentive that could help counter the effects of Maryland's high corporate taxes and stormwater-management regulations that are making it more attractive for businesses to locate in neighboring states, Cline said.
McKinley said he supported Yale Drive because of the need for traffic relief and a second entrance to the college, and any development that follows the road construction would be only the icing on the cake.
"The college is growing," McKinley said. "We would never allow a housing development anywhere near close to that size without a second entrance and a second exit."
Commissioner John F. Barr said Mount Aetna Road and Robinwood Drive are not adequate to handle traffic from Meritus Medical Center, Robinwood Medical Campus and the growing college.
"I've been a champion for Yale Drive from day one, and it should have been built and accessible prior to the hospital having a grand opening, ribbon cutting and dedication," Barr said.
After the vote on the capital budget, Baker said he wanted to discuss the Mount Aetna Farms issue, but Callaham protested that it was not on the board's agenda. The commissioners agreed to schedule further discussion about the issue at a future meeting.
How they voted
Terry Baker: No
John F. Barr: Yes
Ruth Anne Callaham: Yes
Jeffrey A. Cline: Yes
William B. McKinley: Yes