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New county administrator faces challenges

November 30, 1999|By TARA REILLY

Managing growth, rising property taxes and limited water and sewer capacities are among the many issues Gregory B. Murray expects to face in his new role as Washington County administrator.

But one of his biggest challenges, he said, deals with perception.

Murray, 46, wants to change "the stigma that county government is inefficient or not there to serve the citizens."

"We want to make sure that all citizens realize that county government is their government," Murray said.

He is promoting an open government with plenty of involvement for residents and business leaders.

"Our door is open, and we welcome the involvement of citizens, businesses and community leaders, as well as the general public, because we are your county government," Murray said.

That philosophy, Murray said, is driven by a longtime desire to serve the public.

Growing up in Hancock near water and mountains, Murray said he became interested in protecting the quality of life in the county.

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"I always wanted Washington County to be as pristine and pleasant for (residents) as it was for me," Murray said.

Murray thought working in the public sector would be the best way to achieve those goals. Once he got a taste of government work, he said it led to a broader interest in government.

"When I first started in county government, it seemed like an interesting job, but I didn't know where it would lead," Murray said. "Once I became involved, I knew it was a job that you could actually make a difference in services that were provided in the community that you live in ? that you could make a positive difference."

Murray began his first job in government as an operator trainee with the Washington County Sanitary District making $3.96 per hour.

Within three months, he already had begun moving up the ranks of government with a promotion to laboratory director. His duties for that job included testing the quality of Washington County's water.

In 1989, he became the sanitary district's supervisor of facilities, a position he held until 1994, when he became the Town of Hancock's director of utilities and public works. The county hired Murray back in 1997 as the director of the Water and Sewer Department, now known as the Department of Water Quality.

He became the county's top staffer on Tuesday, replacing retiring County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop. Murray's salary is $105,000 annually.

Former County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook was on the board of commissioners when Murray returned to the county in 1997. He praised Murray's leadership abilities, and credited him with reducing the county's water and sewer debt from about $50 million to between $25 million and $30 million. He called that one of Murray's biggest achievements.

"He's done a great job," Snook said. "He worked his way through the trenches ... and really turned that whole water and sewer debt around ..."

Murray, who has four daughters and a stepson, is married to Debra Murray, the county's director of budget and finance.

He thinks the county is in a healthy position to deal with its challenges, but more work is needed to keep the county operating efficiently and effectively ? and to break the perception that the county isn't looking out for its residents.

"I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to work with the commissioners, employees of county government and the citizens of Washington County to help continue to make the county a better place," Murray said. "And my door is always open for people that feel they would like to know more or participate in the county government process."

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