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'How are we doing?'

County receives data report card

County receives data report card

December 02, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - An economic development organization on Thursday unveiled a new "community report card" on aspects of Washington County life - but with no grades.

Rather, the report card is a compendium of data about the county's demographics, economy, education, public safety and community health.

Relying on U.S. Census data and other public sources, the compilation tells, for example, what percentage of county residents were white (89.7) and what percentage of deaths were due to cancer (24.4) in 2000.

Conclusions are few and brief. In some categories - under the heading "How are we doing?" - the compilation notes whether the county is at, below or above the state average.

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The report card is a reference guide, not a marketing tool, said Merle Elliott, the chairman of the board of the nonprofit Hagerstown/Washington County Industrial Foundation, which oversaw production of the compilation.

During a presentation Thursday at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Elliott called the guide "an initial effort to establish a baseline for comparing ourselves to ourselves over time."

Washington County emulated Jacksonville, Fla., whose report card is considered a pioneer in "quality indicators."

Jacksonville's annual "Quality of Life Progress Report," though, has sharper self-analysis and is far more detailed. The 2004 edition has 119 indicators in nine categories, such as "Moving Around Efficiently" and "Promoting Social Wellbeing and Harmony."

Skip Cramer, executive director of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Jacksonville Community Council Inc., said the information is collected from public records and special surveys.

Organizers might cut back on the number of indicators, though, to make the report more manageable, Cramer said.

The first report, in 1985, had 83 indicators, a project history says.

Jacksonville Community Council Inc. and the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce work together on the project.

Cramer said community members spend months making goals in each category, based on research and expert opinions.

Elliott said the idea popped up locally about three years ago, after Hagerstown - representing Washington County - again was part of a Money magazine "best of" list.

Elliott said someone wondered about criteria. The magazine had once ranked the Hagerstown area as high as 34th for most liveable places, but as low as 295th.

An objective measurement of the local quality of life would help, Elliott said.

Washington County's report has about 45 charts and graphs.

The Hagerstown/Washington County Industrial Foundation, which is known as CHIEF, is giving copies to government agencies, community groups and the public, Elliott said.

CHIEF budgeted $5,000 for printing costs and distribution, he said.

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