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Aleshire: The hard tasks facing Washington County

November 04, 2006|by Kristin Aleshire

What follows are five short, issue-oriented comments on some of the points in my campaign for Washington County Commissioner. Please read them. Thank you.

Water and sewer

The most important issue that will drive the physical makeup of this county over the next 20 years is the management of water and sewer.

As a land-use planner and member of the County Water and Sewer Committee, updating the County Water/Sewer Master Plan will be a high priority.

This plan has not been updated since 1992, and up until the committee made its recommendation, it did not appear to be a county priority.

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This has resulted in growth driven by extension of utilities rather than utilities managed by planned growth.

By managing these resources we will be able to ensure a balanced mixture of properly located and timed residential, commercial, and public development.

Economic development

I believe we must expand existing businesses, provide incentives for high-wage major employers, and promote the viability of our local farming economy.

To expand existing businesses, we need to streamline the process for opening small businesses, provide incentives for redevelopment of vacant commercial centers and promote the quality of locally made products. This should include fostering the efforts of municipal EDC initiatives in many of our small towns.

To attract better-paying jobs, we need to understand the competitive nature of our location in the market and use our resources to provide incentives to target industries. This should also discourage the proliferation of low-wage, minimum-education, volatile industries.

For too long, we have avoided our responsibility to promote our local farm economy. If we truly wish to preserve our agricultural heritage, then we must start by ensuring its economic success. Otherwise, we will have simply used public funds to keep vacant land vacant.

Education

Although the county may not be responsible for funding all types of education, I believe improving the overall education level of our citizenry includes all types of education.

The key to public school funding and special learning centers is ensuring that we receive our fair share of funds from the state and federal level. We must also ensure that new growth pays its fair share for increased school demand and that demand doesn't exceed capacity.

The county should be an active partner in investment in our higher learning centers such as Hagerstown Business College, Hagerstown Community College and University System of Maryland at Hagerstown. Expanding these programs will offer our youth and adults the opportunity to continue their education where they live.

Knowing that not every student wants to go to college, efforts should be made to promote vocational training. This will provide our youth with specialized skills at an early age.

Budget

In my experience in public office, I understand that scrutinizing the annual budget is an elected official's single most important job. My approach to the county budget is to be as fiscally responsible with the public's money in good times as we are in difficult times.

This will ensure that our budget does not ride the economic rollercoaster that often lands government in a difficult position in the lean years.

Doing this will require reading and understanding the budget line by line, and asking questions to ensure that the public's funds are spent first on the services we need, and only then on the amenities we would like. I will promote an expanding tax base and provide appropriate increases in county services, while ensuring that all new growth covers its fair share for these services.

I believe we must be able to provide our employees the wages that will allow them to live where they work, while ensuring that citizens can afford where they live.

Growth

Managing growth is such a large topic to cover in a short column, especially as a professional land- use planner who writes comprehensive growth plans. The heart of the job is ensuring that growth and services are balanced. To do this, I would include as many planning tools as needed in the county planning tool box.

We need to update our various planning documents. This includes the Water/Sewer Master Plan, the Comprehensive Plan, the Zoning Code and Subdivision Regulations. On numerous occasions, I have submitted several multi-page questions and recommendations on changes to these plans with little to no response from the county. For example, we cannot expect an APFO to work properly if we conveniently exploit its inconsistencies.

My second priority would be to develop a working relationship with each of the towns and rural villages in developing urban-growth area plans consistent with their efforts to promote growth in areas where services already exist, keep the county from wasting public funds duplicating urban services and allowing high-density growth on the urban fringes.

Kristin Aleshire is a Washington County Commissioner candidate.

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