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Time for the hard truth

April 25, 1997

Washington County Commissioner Jim Wade, already in hot water over his vote to decertify the county road workers' union, this week proposed a 15-cent property tax increase. That's about as likely as a leprechaun solving the county's water/sewer debt crisis by carrying a pot of gold into the county courthouse, but give Wade credit for having the guts to confront the real issue.

Without some additional revenue, the county would have to cut its sewer-fee subsidy, which would mean another rate hike. It would also mean cutting back on capital projects and probably holding the school system to the amount spent last year.

It is time to tell some hard truths, and while we do not always agree with Wade, he's facing this issue, which is as follows:

A previous board of commissioners built the Conococheague sewer-treatment plan in advance of demand, then failed to quickly market it to companies that might have made it a break-even operation. Sewer rates were held down when they should have been raised, and the debt began to pile up.

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Commissioner Ron Bowers' proposals for dealing with the crisis - increasing usage and forging an agreement with the City of Hagerstown - are long-term solutions that previous county boards should have been working on. This board may make progress on those issues, but not before it's time to approve next year's budget.

Bowers' proposals to avoid raising taxes by spending surplus county funds and lowering landfill fees to attract more business come across as desperate moves designed to appeal to naive voters who believe that somewhere, like the mythical leprechaun we spoke of earlier, government is hiding a pot of gold that could pay for everything.

Do anyone really believe that if there was an easy way out, this county board wouldn't have taken it already? Spending the surplus and filling up the present landfill before the next one is permitted would only postpone the inevitable until after the next election, with possibly disastrous consequences. Wade isn't always right, but in pushing the county board to confront its financial problems, he's on target.

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