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'State of the County'

February 03, 1999

More than 150 members of the business community turned out Tuesday for breakfast and a look at Washington County's future at the annual "State of the County" meeting. As Commissioners' President Greg Snook noted, the new board has been in office only eight weeks, too little time, it would seem, for the honeymoon to be over yet. To give the commissioners their due, however, judging from Snook's presentation, the new board seems to be proceeding in a cautious and business-like manner.

The county board's top priority will continue to be finding a solution to the multi-million-dollar water and sewer debt, Snook said and to that end, he announced that a company called Safety-Kleen would soon beginning shipping oily waste to the pre-treatment facility by rail car.

Second on the list is economic development, but in answer to one of only two audience questions posed during the event, most of the commissioners were cautious about Hagerstown's plan for a combination business park and minor league stadium site on Salem Avenue. Snook did announce more than 400 new jobs as a result of other recent economic development efforts, however.

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Next on the list is an update of the county's comprehensive plan, essentially unchanged since 1973, when the county zoning ordinance was introduced. Snook estimated the updating process could take two years or more. What he didn't say is that it may be the last and best hope for preserving county farmland, and that crafting a solution the farm community can live with will require the wisdom of Solomon.

Getting the county's finances in order was next on the list, with Snook saying the county's goal is to put an amount equal to 7 percent of the county's annual budget into a "cash stabilization fund" top deal with emergencies. Borrowing will be brought under control as well, he said.

Finally, Snook talked about the county's commitment to education, not only to the Board of Education, but the new University of Maryland campus. A $25,000 planning grant for the latter was awarded, but the audience surely must have known that this is only a tiny down payment. How much more education in general will require is unclear, and perhaps when the honeymoon is over, someone will ask that question.

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