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John Munson wants to erase county's debt

October 28, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

John Munson would like to detonate Washington County's debt, blow it right to oblivion.

"We're 156 million (dollars) in debt and pay 7.3 million (dollars) in interest on that debt," said Munson, a County Commission candidate. "There's no reason we can't stop spending for a few years.

"The 7.3 million could be used for - maybe give the sheriff's department better starting salaries, maybe give teachers (better) salaries."

An iron-handed intolerance for financial waste - debt of any kind - is fueling Munson's second run for County Commission.

He finished 11 votes out of the running in the 1998 Republican primary. "It just made me decide I was going to run again," he said.

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Money is at the root of most of Munson's criticisms of the current administration - particularly deficit spending.

The county's projection of finishing the fiscal year with a surplus of more than $2 million is a fallacy, Munson charged. "In my opinion, we don't have any surplus until that debt is totally paid off," he said.

Tax increases are also taboo for Munson, who vowed he would never vote for one.

He said many county residents are worried about taxes going up and would surely "go without" certain services for four or five years. "Just maintain roads and existing water and sewer (services)," he said.

Munson said he is frugal by nature.

"I've learned to be a nitpicker by working for the Postal Service ...," he said, "and I'll probably be that way the rest of my life."

As postmaster in Middletown, Md., for six years, Munson was responsible for a budget of more than $1 million, he said. He also served three years as the postmaster in Cascade, where the budget was about half as big.

His work with the U.S. Postal Service convinced Munson of the value of merit pay, which he favors for county and school supervisors.

Munson said he has shared ideas for improvement but people in power have ignored them.

He mentioned as an example the lights kept on at night outside Paramount Elementary School. If employees need them when they walk to their cars, why not put the lights on a timer, Munson wondered.

"We had to keep all the lights off at the post office at night," he said.

He said he won't list his current ideas to save money, even the obvious ones, until he gets elected and all of the commissioners are "diving into" a thorough review of spending. He also didn't want to name the departments he believes are overspending now.

Munson worked for the Postal Service for 30 years, 21 of them as a carrier and supervisor in Hagerstown. He retired in 1996.

He and his wife, Audrey, parents of one adult son, like to camp and travel to NASCAR events. They've been to several major speedways. Munson roots for Jeff Gordon. "There is no other driver," he said.

They also get together with other Newmar motor home owners at an annual rally.

"When you retire, you wonder, 'How did I get it all done before I retired?,'" Munson said.

Retirement gives him time to follow county issues, read the newspaper and occasionally attend meetings.

He believes the current County Commissioners - except William J. Wivell - act imprudently and hastily.

Munson opposed the county's purchase of the Farmers & Merchants Bank building on West Baltimore Street for more than $1 million in 2000. Wivell was the only commissioner to vote against the purchase.

"Government needs to stop expanding," Munson said. "There's no need for it. Too many decisions are made too quickly."

Public employees could use a refresher course in serving the public, Munson said, recalling that it took two days to get an answer to a simple question about drywall.

"County employees need to become more friendly to the customers and voters and to new companies wanting to move into this area," he said.

Munson said government secrecy frustrates him, particularly the county's undisclosed retirement agreement with John Howard, the former Economic Development Commission executive director.

Contracts are never appropriate for county employees, he said. "If they can't work on salary, they can go somewhere else and work," said Munson, who has filed several Public Information Act requests lately to find out more.

If, as County Commissioner, Munson thought anything were improperly kept from the public, he would immediately tell The Herald-Mail, he said.

Munson wants his home and cell phone numbers publicized and invited people to call him with questions or complaints. He promised to respond promptly with answers or solutions.

Munson also said he would like to slow, but not stop, growth in the county.

To ward off too much development, Munson wants to see large impact fees charged to out-of-town developers, but he isn't sure that can be done.

There are 10 candidates for five County Commission seats in the Nov. 5 election. Each term is four years.

The next commissioners will earn $30,000 a year and the commission president will make $33,000.

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