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Key questions and answers at 'State of the County'

February 08, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Given a choice between listening to a speech or a question-and- answer session, there's no doubt which is more interesting.

Instead of a heavy plate of facts, you get small bites of information that are tastier, so to speak, because they're not scripted.

So it was on Tuesday, at the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce's "State of the County" meeting.

It began with a snappy PowerPoint presentation narrated by Commissioners President Greg Snook, who touted the county's improved financial position and its plans to manage growth, build needed infrastructure and bring in new, higher-paying jobs.

Then the five commissioners answered audience questions for at least 30 minutes.

Answers included the following:

Of the roads needed to serve a new hospital at Robinwood, Snook said the county, the City of Hagerstown and the State of Maryland will continue to work together "with the expectation that these projects will be completed by the time the new hospital opens."

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Snook said later if he could get some money from the governor's supplemental budget, he'd like it to go to upgrades to Robinwood Drive and two Dual Highway intersections.

Asked about workforce housing needed for people employed here as teachers, medical technicians and law enforcement personnel, Snook said, "That's a tough nut to crack."

Changes in the zoning ordinance to allow certain types of manufactured housing might help, Snook said.

Commissioner John Munson said he would "like to see the county get involved in building homes."

Those homes would be sold to those with lower incomes, he said.

Someone sitting behind me groaned at the idea, but without government involvement, workforce housing won't be built. If you're a builder, why would you put anything but the most expensive house you could sell on a lot that cost you $100,000?

Asked if the School Board should be reconfigured so five members were elected from geographic districts and two at large, Commissioners Jim Kercheval and Dori Nipps said they'd prefer candidates who fought for every child's needs, as opposed to those of one district.

On proposals for tax relief, Snook said that "each of the commissioners has a desire to do something. We're just not sure what."

Dropping the annual cap on property assessment increases from 10 percent to 5 percent has been considered, Munson said, adding that the county's General Assembly delegation might do it on its own.

Snook said that whatever is enacted must be done with an eye on its long-term effect on the county's needs. Earlier Snook said that, assuming there are no additional state cuts, county taxpayers will have to pay 70-75 percent of the cost of new schools.

When the individual commissioners were asked which issues they felt were critical, Nipps said it is ensuring that the county has enough sheriff's deputies and emergency services providers.

"How are we going to deal with the loss of volunteers?" she said.

Please not with another consultant study. In the past, these have been cover for previous boards' reluctance to do anything to upset the individual companies or the taxpayers. Election-year action would be welcome, but isn't likely.

During his PowerPoint presentation, Snook showed one slide that said that the county had added "over 900 net new jobs this year ..." The slide also said that those "new jobs average over $18 an hour."

Asked where those $18-an-hour jobs were, Snook said that "a lot of them are out at the airport. I can't talk a lot about that because of the sensitivity" of the jobs.

The next slide said that since 2002, more than 300 new airport-related jobs have been added.

The commissioners were also asked about the value of the so-called 2-plus-2 committee, which has two city council members and two commissioners meeting regularly to negotiate items of mutual interest.

Kercheval said that the sewage flow-transfer agreement for the new hospital was resolved during 2-plus-2 talks. On other topics, Kercheval and Nipps said, progress has been slower.

But Nipps said the meetings have been an educational process for her and a way to overcome the feeling on both sides that the two governments are completely separate.

"What happens in the city has an effect on what happens in the county," she said.

Even though that seems obvious, it's nice to hear an elected official express the idea that we're all in this together.




Bob Maginnis is Opinion editor of The Herald-Mail.

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