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Herald-Mail Endorsement

For County Commissioner: Aleshire, Barr, Brightman, Kercheval and Swartz

For County Commissioner: Aleshire, Barr, Brightman, Kercheval and Swartz

October 23, 2006

It may be overly dramatic to say this is the most important county commissioner race in Washington County's history, but there is no question it will affect the greatest number of people.

Since 2000, Washington has become one of the fastest growing counties in the state. In that time, we've added 10,000 residents, our population growing at a rate of 7.6 percent - a full 2 percent faster than the state of Maryland as a whole.

While spiraling housing prices have stalled the boom at the moment, it's likely only a pause in the trend and the next board of commissioners must demonstrate a deft hand at managing growth and growth's byproducts, both good and bad.

We have chosen to endorse a mix of candidates who we believe will be able to find middle ground on a broad range of issues. Most notably, the county will require a board that neither rubber- stamps every new development, nor resorts to extreme, artificial restraints, such as moratoriums.

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So too, we believe in a moderate, wise approach to taxes. With growth, a knee-jerk "no" response to every project and every improvement based on the rationale that it is a drain on the taxpayer is not a wise option. Particularly in education, roads and infrastructure, we believe that judicious expenditures cannot and should not be rebuffed.

Money spent to attract new business, in fact, has the long-term effect of keeping taxes lower by broadening the tax base. Business feeds off an educated population. In turn, solid companies give our children an opportunity to stay at home instead of having to leave for other regions in search of good pay.

Conversely, we do not endorse candidates who would spend at any opportunity. Care must be taken to remember that a significant percentage of our population is on fixed incomes and suffers with each additional tax bite.

With this in mind, The Herald-Mail endorses:

Kristin Aleshire. Being the best member of the current Hagerstown City Council may be akin to being the tallest Muppet, but Aleshire would have been an asset to almost any elected panel.

No one throws himself into the job more than Aleshire, who can recite just about every budget item from memory.

A true moderate, Aleshire is a cautious voice for progressive government, and seems to have outgrown an early penchant for becoming hung up on the smallest details. While a loss for City Council, he might be more of an asset for the city of Hagerstown as a member of the board of county commissioners, which has treated the city like an ugly stepsister in recent history.

John Barr. Barr has a deep familiarity of Washington County on two fronts. As owner of Ellsworth Electric Inc., Barr is a sound voice for the construction-trades side of the equation. If new construction is a major issue, construction deserves a seat at the table. Barr has also recognized the need for greater trades training at the local level. And, while he is in the contracting profession, he has demonstrated an appreciation of Washington County's natural assets.

Second, Barr has had a positive hand in just about every charitable and nonprofit cause in the county. He has truly paid his dues where it matters. All told, it means he has experienced a broad cross section of the county demographic, from well-heeled homebuilders to those who are in the greatest need.

Donna Brightman. Brightman, too, has paid her dues before seeking elected office. She has been involved in home rule and Council of Governments task forces. It's invaluable experience as the county searches for an effective form of government, and a way to give voice to all governments and all people across the county. She lists growth as a key concern, and would be a sound representative for the substantial number of people in Washington County who believe in the value of our rural, scenic atmosphere. Brightman would be a welcome infusion of fresh ideas and a perspective beyond the business-as-usual rut the county too often finds itself in.

James Kercheval. Head and shoulders the best county commissioner of the present board, Kercheval has more than earned a new term. He was the only commissioner to both vote for a plan to protect our open spaces and at the same time offer a solid, meaningful plan to compensate rural landowners for property value that might have been lost to tighter zoning law. If just two other commissioners had shared Kercheval's vision, farmland compensation would be in place today, and it would have not become the contentious issue that it has. A rare independent mind in government - he bucked the establishment to oppose encroachment of a stone quarry into a residential area - Kercheval does his homework, listens to all sides and offers real solutions.

Paul Swartz. Swartz' platform contains two intriguing proposals, one involving free college tuition for Washington County residents, the other a cap on tax rates for the elderly.

The feasibility of both plans remain to be seen, but they demonstrate Swartz has a commitment to two of the more important issues of our day: Education and the idea that, as the county grows, those of lesser means should not be left behind.

A past commissioner, Swartz proved to be a good listener, a voice for all people and a proactive peddler of progressive ideas. Swartz has demonstrated a tendency to suggest solutions to issues before they reach the crisis stage, an asset that is once again called for in Washington County.

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