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Counties To Press State on Funding

Conference Held In Ocean City

By Jessica Valdez and Josh Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 19, 2004; Page SM01

County commissioners from across Southern Maryland are flooding Ocean City this week.

But they insist that their visit will not amount to lounging at the beach.

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Instead, the commissioners will meet today through Saturday with hundreds of county and state officials to discuss legislative and budgetary issues as part of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) conference. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and his staff will also attend the conference, which is held annually at the beachfront town.

"It's an opportunity to socially and formally meet with the governor's Cabinet and the governor," said Calvert County Commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings).

The conference -- with the theme of "Where Do We Grow From Here?" -- emphasizes the need to protect county budgets from state funding cuts, Hale said. Counties want to safeguard state-funded county services and projects, including much-needed highway improvements, he said.

"Many folks are rightly concerned that there won't be enough money to fund all the local initiatives that counties have currently on the plate," said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert), who will participate in a panel on drug treatment alternatives.

More than 80 speakers at the conference will discuss topics that include strategic land use management, economic development and growth, controlling health care costs and housing needs of the elderly. The conference, which dates to the early 1950s, gives counties the opportunity to represent local interests to the state government.

The Calvert County commissioners will meet with Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan to advocate upgrading the intersection of Routes 231 and 4 in Prince Frederick. The project is estimated to cost $12 million, Hale said.

The commissioners will also address potential funding cuts to the Calvert County drug-treatment program.

Charles County's commissioners said they would be pushing for more attention for the Waldorf bypass, a proposed project intended to alleviate traffic problems on Route 301.

Murray D. Levy (D-At Large), president of the Charles County commissioners, said he would meet with Flanagan to discuss right of way acquisition for the road. Lack of state funding and concern over the project's impact on wetlands have stalled the Waldorf bypass, the county's top road priority.

"This [meeting] is re-energizing it," Levy said.

Levy, a past president of MACo who has been on the board of directors for about a decade, serves on a committee to discuss legislative initiatives for the upcoming General Assembly session. The committee will whittle a list of about 50 proposals to a handful of promising initiatives, he said.

Levy will also moderate a panel Saturday on "Building Schools With Different Rules." With state funding tight for school construction, counties are interested in finding innovative ways to finance new schools, Levy said.

"We want to get on the record that when [fiscal problems] are repaired, when you're back in business, don't forget school construction," Levy said.

Hale, who is on MACo's board of directors and the legislative committee, said he would represent Calvert County by playing a round of golf with the governor.

"It's good visibility for Calvert County to have that kind of contact with the governor," he said.

In the past, discussions at MACo have been crucial for advancing Charles County's interests, Levy said. A few years ago, contacts made at MACo helped the county secure $10 million in state funding for the expansion of the Mattawoman Wastewater Treatment Plant, Levy said.

"It's a lot of work," he said. "I never see the beach when I'm up there."

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