Facing a new $3 million tab for teacher pensions, the Washington County Board of Commissioners decided Tuesday to cut $3.3 million from a county health department program that provides nurses in schools.
County Administrator Gregory B. Murray offered two other choices to offset the $3 million — raising the property tax or tapering off payments to the county employee pension fund — but both were rejected by the five commissioners.
The state has been paying the cost of public school teachers’ pensions, but the Maryland General Assembly voted in a special session last month to start shifting that cost to the counties that employ the teachers.
The $3 million more that Washington County is expecting to pay next year was the largest detail the commissioners figured out Tuesday before approving operating and capital budgets for fiscal 2013.
The commissioners also agreed to eliminate a category of excise tax and to pay for a longer warranty for a new roof at Hagerstown Community College.
In addition, Terry Baker, the president of the commissioners, said he would support the capital budget only if the amount of borrowing were cut.
With the final changes in place, the commissioners approved their spending plans for the coming year.
The Herald-Mail reported in May that the overall proposed $283.4 million budget for fiscal 2013 was 2.51 percent lower than the budget approved for fiscal 2012.
A county budget summary guide shows the capital improvement budget for fiscal 2014 at $45.3 million, an amount included in the overall budget.
Of that $45.2 million, $14 million was to come through tax-supported debt.
Baker objected to that level on Tuesday, saying it should be $12 million.
But Commissioner William McKinley said everything on the capital improvement plan needs to get done. If the county waits, the cost will rise, he said.
However, when Baker said the county could save money on debt payments by lowering its borrowing, other commissioners agreed to explore that idea.
The commissioners approved the capital spending plan with $14 million in borrowing, but agreed to apply up to $2 million in expected savings — particularly from the downtown library renovation — to the debt.
Originally, Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed an equal split in teacher pension costs for next year.
Instead, the legislature agreed to phase in that split over four years.
Washington County’s share is expected to be about $3 million the first year and $4.8 million in year four.
By cutting the $3.3 million school nurse program, the county will have enough to pay the $3 million in new pension costs next year and could apply the remaining $300,000 to future costs.
Asked if he thought the county should bear all of the new pension-shift costs, Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said: “No, I think this is a shared responsibility.”
School system officials need to determine how many nurses are needed, how the nurses will be supplied to the schools, and how those positions will be funded, Wilcox said.