Local leadership doesn't inspire confidence in younger generation

August 31, 2003|By Allan Wagaman

While I have been home from college over the summer, I've been closely following local politics in Washington County. While there has been an abundance of local citizens' political opinions that have been published by The Herald-Mail, I believe there is a lack of a progressive perspective.

The focus of politics in this county seems to be solely on issues of today (along with counter-productive bickering), and there is very little forethought or long-term planning that I can see. This is particularly troubling since the next generation of citizens in this county has a vested interest in the current policies, as the current policies of the government will affect the current young people of this county when we are taxpaying citizens.

The people in government today have a responsibility to look out for the interests of the current residents as well as the future residents of Washington County.

When I look at the county government (and the city government), the aspect that bothers me the most is the apparent lack of a comprehensive plan for the development of their respective jurisdictions. It does not seem like the leadership of either jurisdiction is able to reach a consensus on where it is going. Even worse, as much as governing bodies bicker among themselves, they seem to find the thought of working with the other government incomprehensible.


What seems to have been lost in all of the infighting is the art of compromise. In governmental disputes, sometimes it is not possible to get exactly what you wish, but sometimes you can come up with an agreement that benefits both bodies and is close to what you originally wanted. Until both sides rediscover this forgotten art, the county and city will have strained (at best) relations.

Another disturbing aspect of the political climate in this county is all the anti-development talk coming from citizen groups, such as the CPWC. The truth is, development is coming regardless of whether it is wanted or not, and it is irresponsible to act as if it is not on the horizon. More irresponsible than ignoring development is trying to stop it, such as the CPWC is trying to do through advocating reactionary policies.

What the CPWC does not seem to realize (or acknowledge) is that there is a cost to setting aside land to remain undeveloped. A significant source of county tax revenue is property tax, which is not just on the land, but also includes the buildings on the land. As operating costs increase, the county is going to need more funding and one of the chief sources of this would be property tax.

However, if downzoning prevents development and drives down property values, where does the CPWC expect this vital revenue to materialize from? Also, since groups such as the CPWC do not want residential growth, it is also fair to assume that commercial, technological or industrial growth is not viewed favorably. If this is true, where do they expect the future generations of Washington County residents to work?

Do they expect us to work in the retail shops for the rest of our lives? What sort of earnings potential do they want us to have? How do they expect the standard of living in this county to increase without development? What, at this time, does this county offer to young college-educated people, and how do they plan to draw in people with higher education and higher earnings potential? Much as Tom Firey was hinting at in his editorial of Aug. 8 ("Farmers, rurals, supporters of fairness: It's time to unite"), sentiments and ideas such as those exhibited by the CPWC can actually damage, not preserve, Washington County by creating a stagnant economy.

What is the solution to these problems? There is no easy solution, but I do have a couple of suggestions in mind. First, the city and the county need to realize that they are not mutually exclusive from each other and find a way to work out their differences. The survival of each is somewhat dependent on the other.

Secondly, the governments need to sit down and develop a comprehensive plan for the economic development of this county.

Thirdly, the local governments need to embrace development that corresponds to the plan they draft, but they must be careful to control and confine that development, most likely to the greater Hagerstown area. It is possible to limit the growth to the greater Hagerstown area, thus keeping much of the county rural yet still allowing for development. Thus, Washington County would have areas that are developed and other areas that are rural, similar to the layout of Saint Mary's County in Southern Maryland.

In order to succeed, these governments need to look toward the future. The supreme purpose of government is to ensure the welfare of as many of its citizens as possible. The key to the welfare of any region is managed growth and the key to managed growth is structured, progressive development. Instead of focusing on simply preserving Washington County as it was, let's look toward the future and improve the quality of life for everyone in this county.

Allan Wagaman is a Hagerstown resident.

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