Letters to the editor - 11/3/02

November 04, 2002

Six-part plan would move Washington County toward the future

As promised, I would like to share my six-step plan for Washington County. It's an open-ended plan that will grow and evolve with input from citizens and other commissioners.

Step No. 1: Review the efficiency of county government

Washington County is a $188 million business. Working with citizens and other commissioners to review its efficiency, we would create two study teams, one a senior management team, the other a staff team.

Each would take 120 days to establish goals and objectives to streamline, consolidate and modernize operations and make government accessible. I would propose a hiring freeze until the study is done and presented to the commissioners. Its objectives would be to provide more efficient services to citizens and pay the employees at the market standard.

We also need to study current barriers that prohibit citizens from communicating with government. We could extend hours of operation by offering employees a flex schedule. A Central Call Center would help and televising County Commissioner meetings may improve interest in government.


Step No. 2: Prioritize the goals of the comprehensive plan

Washington County has been permitting approximately 600 housing starts a year. Growth has been less than 1 percent. When the comprehensive plan is completed, its goals need to be identified and prioritized. The number one issue for citizens of Washington County is growth and development.

The plan must ensure growth occurs where there is adequate or planned infrastructure. Following the current site-planning approval process and building regulations, the county will continue to require developers to pay for infrastructure costs within their subdivisions.

With state assistance, we could resolve off-site costs for roads, bridges and intersections by developing a formula to determine the cost of the "impact" outside of the developer's subdivisions.

The economic vitality of our building industry is very important and its members must be involved in resolving growth issues.

To manage growth and development in our rural areas, we must develop a dedicated revenue stream for agricultural preservation, with citizens' involvement. I don't favor raising property taxes to resolve this issue.

Step No. 3: Ensure the safety of our citizens

An elected official's top priority is to guarantee citizens' safety. We must study the needs of our law enforcement and correctional agencies. I am supporting Central Booking to ensure efficiency and put our police officers back on the street quickly after arrests. Since last Sept. 11 we have seen that our police/fire/rescue communication system must be upgraded.

Only 35 percent of county households participate in fire and rescue fund drives and less than 10 percent of businesses. My recommendation: Have county fund 60 percent of the budget and ask fire/rescue organizations raise to raise 40 percent.

The commissioners would appoint an ad hoc committee to recommend a revenue stream within 90 days. I would then ask the Emergency Services Council to complete a policy-and-procedures manual within 120 days.

Upon delivery of the study, the commissioners would review it and resolve this 20-year-old problem.

Step No. 4: Improve the quality of life/economic development

Our public-sector agencies are losing experienced personnel because they can commute to Frederick County and the metropolitan areas and earn a salary of at least $6,000 or more a year than in Washington County. We are becoming the training ground for public-sector employees. Our employees must be paid at the market standard.

I would request agencies freeze or reduce personnel needs, so the commissioners can achieve market-standard goals. Considering Washington County has been growing less than 1 percent a year, additional public-sector personnel must be justified.

Private-sector salaries will improve as we focus on recruiting new companies that pay our citizens a living wage. It's very important to tell citizens not only which new companies are coming, but also how much they'll pay.

Step No. 5: Strengthen county government

Before considering consolidation of services, I'd ask two questions: "Will it show a cost savings?" and "Will it provide better service to our citizens?"

My goal is to develop a cooperative relationship to assure city and county citizens that we can resolve issues of mutual concern. Joint city/county work sessions will resolve political issues, with staff invited when it's time to make decisions or get additional information. The following would create a healthy and productive relationship.

  • Consolidate permits and inspections.

  • Issue one tax bill from the County Treasurer's office.

  • Join forces to cut insurance costs.

  • Consolidate Fire and Rescue operations.

I'd like to improve relationships with all county municipalities by holding quarterly public work sessions with them and with state and federal elected officials.

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