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Wivell showing independence

January 31, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Two months into his term, Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell has started voting more independently then the other commissioners.

At the Jan. 26 meeting, for example, Wivell raised eyebrows by making the sole dissenting votes on two agenda items: a request to license home builders and a tax break for a quasi-government agency.

His "no" votes follow many unanimous decisions while four new commissioners grow used to their jobs. Only Gregory I. Snook, president of the Washington County Commissioners, was returned to office this year.

Wivell, an Allegheny Power accountant, credits his beliefs with some of his dissenting opinions.

"I guess I am a little more conservative there than the others," he said.

He also joked, "Bert's supposed to be the independent."

Technically, that's true. Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger, a former Republican, is a registered Independent. Snook and Wivell are Republicans. Commissioners John L. Schnebly and Paul L. Swartz are Democrats.

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"I'm glad to see that Bill is speaking up," Iseminger said. "I feel that we all bring a little something to the commission."

"As we get into more the difficult issues, I would not expect 5-0 votes all the time," Snook said.

At the Jan. 26 meeting, the commissioners agreed to a request by the Home Builders Association of Washington County to ask the local delegation of the Maryland General Assembly for legislation allowing the county to license home builders.

Members of the delegation, though, have said they want to wait and see if a proposed state law licensing home builders materializes.

Wivell said he voted against the idea partially because it might add a new, perhaps unneeded, level of bureaucracy to the county government.

Wivell also opposed a request by the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation Inc., known as CHIEF, to waive $32,243 in county property taxes on two properties in Hopewell Valley, just west of Hagerstown.

CHIEF leaders asked for the taxes to be waived because two tracts in the park can't be properly marketed until the county provides road access via the Halfway Boulevard extension. CHIEF is a nonprofit corporation created to bring industries to Hagerstown and Washington County.

Wivell said that even though CHIEF is a nonprofit agency intending to help the county, he is uncomfortable giving any organizations tax credits.

Swartz said that one area where he and Wivell split is on how to respond to the county's debt.

The county's outstanding debt, as of Jan. 1, was $136.5 million. About $50 million of that amount stems from the now-defunct Washington County Sewer District.

"We look to Bill as being one of the number crunchers to help us get out of the debt," Swartz said.

"Bill is a very intelligent thinker. He is going to be a great commissioner. He is very conservative. He realizes there are two ways to vote: with your head and with your heart."

However, sometimes the county needs to gamble in order to get more revenue, he said.

Swartz and Iseminger support extending the runway at the Hagerstown Regional Airport so it can become a better economic development tool. Wivell is more skeptical about whether the project is necessary right now.

Wivell also disagrees with Swartz about whether the county should be involved in paying for a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns minor league baseball team. Swartz supports the idea while the other three commissioners have not taken a position on the matter.

Wivell said he is not opposed to the building of a new stadium but does not think county taxpayer money should be used.

He made that opinion clear when the commissioners met with owner Winston Blenckstone last month.

"I am not a believer that the government should run around funding stadiums," Wivell told them. "And I will probably never stray from that belief."

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