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Editorial - No easy answers here

April 10, 1998

At Washington County's "State of the County" forum in February, Commissioner Jim Wade said general fund help for the county's sewer and water systems was essential, because rate-payers couldn't absorb the $2.5 million general-fund subsidy without being driven out of their homes. On Tuesday, the commissioners voted, on Wade's motion, to cut the subsidy by $700,000.

It may not seem consistent, but it's tough to criticize Wade and the majority's decision to spread the county's available revenue around.

To begin with, the subsidy is of questionable legality. If it's challenged successfully in court, the full weight will have to fall on the rate-payers sooner rather than later. Second, the city and the county recently agreed to work on increasing flow to the county's underutilized Conococheague plant, which should trim the amount of subsidy needed. And finally, improving the school system - Wade's stated reason for cutting the subsidy - should eventually improve the economic climate enough to attract more businesses that will use the plant.

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If that last one sounds like a stretch - a less grandiose version of "build it and they will come" - it may be, but absent a multi-million-dollar bequest or other windfall, there just aren't any simple solutions that could win approval.

Former state delegate Paul Muldowney is right when he says tip-jar gambling revenue could be used to pay down the debt, but it took all the political courage the county delegation could muster just to knock the "sunset" provision out of that law. Nor do we see the legislature easily agreeing to a change a law designed to benefit charities into one that subsidizes government operation instead.

In short, the long-term solution to the county's water and sewer debt still hasn't been found, and until it is, the commissioners will have to spend a lot of time deciding how to divide revenues that won't cover everything to make sure that everyone in need gets something. Everyone tempted to criticize how they do that should remember that it wasn't the current board that got the county into this mess.

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