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Items to watch in the coming year

January 03, 2002

Items to watch in the coming year



Unless your name is Nostradamus, predictions about the future are no more than guesses. But thinking about what might happen is useful because anticipating the worst may help us prepare for it.

With that in mind, here's a few things we need to get ready for in 2002:

In the Maryland General Assembly's upcoming session, the most important job for Washington County lawmakers will be keeping cash in the budget for the proposed downtown campus of the University Systems of Maryland. The job will be more difficult because at some point, Gov. Parris Glendening will ask the delegation to support something they find distasteful or worse.

There's something like that in each session, a measure that plays well in Baltimore and the Washington, D.C. suburbs, but which is political poison in the more conservative rural areas. Last year it was gay rights. I'm not sure what it will be this year, but Glendening is unlikely to leave office without making a last attempt to put his stamp on the state. The delegation would be well-advised to find out what the governor has in mind sooner rather than later.

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The Washington County School Board will decide on redistricting this year, acting on a series of recommendations developed by a 50-member citizen panel. Throwing out most or all of these would be a disaster, alienating the kind of citizens the school systems needs the most - those who are willing to get involved.

But one of the key decisions will be on the proposal to extend the boundaries of Fountaindale Elementary school to the northeast, bringing in 25 students from Paramount Elementary School. The current board includes two Paramount parents, Roxanne Ober and Bernadette Wagner. It will be interesting to see which way these two jump on this issue.




Hagerstown's City Council will probably raise taxes again this year, but their more difficult task may be negotiating with the city's municipal unions. Last October I wrote about a proposal by James Bestpitch of the Council 67 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that could save money - as officials in Cumberland say it has - by cross-training employees. It will take that and more - including some possible department mergers with Washington County - to help the city. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid there will be some ugly words before these negotiations are over.




Unless Executive Director Michael Nye has been crying wolf for the last couple of years, the financial crunch facing Community Rescue Service will come to a head during 2002. Layoffs at CRS would mean more emergency calls would go to suburban companies, for transports they can't get reimbursed for. The increased security concerns following Sept. 11 have put this issue on the back burner, but county government can't study this issue for another three years before it acts.




And speaking of issues that have been back-burnered, downtown Hagerstown needs some help. The city government is planning to add more brick crosswalks this year, while retailers struggle with a lack of foot traffic. Karen Giffin, the city's Community Relations Director, was originally hired to help downtown, but her attention was drawn elsewhere as her public relations savvy was tapped for every other city project.

Even if you don't care about downtown, consider that every industry that looks at Washington County also looks at downtown. There are some bright spots, but downtown needs some more feet walking on those new bricks.




The combination of rising impact fees and a municipal water shortage in Frederick County will continue to push development west. Will local government be able to rein in developers' tendency to jam as many units as possible onto small parcels of land on narrow local roads? I'd like to think so, but it's likely the Edgewood Drive/U.S. 40 bottleneck will be duplicated all over the area.




Finally, it's an election year and we'll get a chance to see whether everyone who's been waving the flag will attend to a more difficult civic duty and vote. Turnout might be increased if some group, perhaps the League of Women Voters, got moving on a plan to televise local candidate forums.

It will cost a couple of thousand bucks, but if this isn't a perfect use of gaming commission money, I don't know what is. However, some group will actually have to file an application and follow through, because wishing won't get it done.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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