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Council of Governments: Is it a better way to plan?

February 09, 2005

Was Washington County really prepared for the recent surge in its population? Given the scrambling the County Commissioners are doing to play catch-up, most would agree the answer is "no."

Would there be better communication on these matters if a Council of Governments (COG) was formed? Maybe, if elected officials committed to the idea and fully funded it.

The COG proposal was put together by members of Boonsboro High School's Citizens Advisory Committee and given to the School Board Jan. 25.

Its recommendations include:

· Form a COG with representatives from the County Commissioners, the School Board, each municipality and the directors of the county's planning, parks, public works and public safety departments.

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· Have the COG meet as a group every other month and break down into regional groups and even smaller work groups for planning purposes.

· Provide administrative support and funding for the COG from the budget of the county's planning and community development department.

The group's report also contained other suggestions, including a proposal to change state law in regard to school construction so new schools could be built before existing ones become overcrowded.

Now to our reservations. Commissioners President Greg Snook's first reaction to the idea was a COG "has its place," but should be tabled until the county gets approval to levy excise taxes within municipal borders.

You don't have to read between the lines to see that no matter how well or poorly the present system is working, there will be a resistance to changing it.

That's true in part because it will require an additional staff person, funded by county government, to coordinate a COG.

Michael Thompson, the county's planning director, recently talked about how difficult it is for staff just to keep up with the existing workload. Form a COG and someone will have to keep track of meetings and ensure that each subgroup is aware of what all of the others are doing.

But just because something is difficult doesn't mean it's not worth doing. But those who advocate need to know going in that there will be resistance -budgetary and otherwise - to the idea.

The Boonsboro group might also want to consider whether the same thing might be accomplished by changing the local form of government from a board of commissioners elected at large to a council elected by districts. There's nothing like the prospect of being turned out of office to keep elected officials focused on what's going on in their districts.

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