County, chamber officials trade barbs on blame

February 05, 1997


Staff Writer

Failure to attract higher-paying jobs to Washington County was blamed in part Tuesday on the business community's fear of unionized labor.

Washington County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers, speaking at the State of the County Forum sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said business leaders consistently have been opposed to organized labor because of the higher pay commanded by unionized jobs.

"I'm not afraid of standing here and saying it," Bowers told the group of 127 business people.

After the breakfast meeting, Chamber of Commerce Director Fred Teeter criticized county government for excluding the business community from local economic development efforts.


"We think that's a huge mistake," Teeter said. "If you're not involving your existing business, what's the message to new business."

Teeter laid the blame squarely on Bowers' shoulders.

"County Commissioner Bowers has done more to derail the chamber's participation and ultimate involvement," Teeter said. "He doesn't trust the business leadership to get involved."

Bowers responded later by saying, "If members of the chamber want to run the community, let them run for public office. The county government will not be run by committee."

Bowers said he's not an enemy to business and pointed to a 1990 business leadership award he received from the Chamber of Commerce.

During the county's presentation to the chamber, Bowers admonished Hagerstown Mayor Steven T. Sager for opposing the idea of a unified city and county approach to delivering public water and sewer services.

Sager shook his head no when Bowers mentioned the concept of a metropolitan water and sewer authority.

Sager said later that establishing a broader authority wouldn't solve the county's $55 million water and sewer debt.

"The city has run its utilities well," Sager said. "There's no way we're giving up our systems."

Commissioners' President Gregory I. Snook opened the county's presentation by highlighting favorable points such as:

  • A growing labor force and low unemployment.
  • Increasing investment by existing and new businesses.
  • Climbing tax base.

Other commissioners took turns addressing key issues.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey said fire and rescue costs have reached a critical point and a tax increase likely will be needed in the future to support the service.

Commissioner James R. Wade said it appears that county sewer and water rates won't be as high as originally projected. He said it wasn't a mistake to build the Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant because of the development that's taken place in outlying business and industrial zones.

Commissioner John S. Shank, speaking of parks and recreation, applauded the development of the Washington County Agricultural Education Center.

On county growth, Shank said the commissioners anticipate hiring a consultant to study detailed cost of development. He also said the county needs to develop a zoning classification for Fort Ritchie as it is phased out as a military base.

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