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Jefferson changing for the better

January 07, 2007|by Jim Surkamp

In 2007, the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Commission and our 50,000 residents will likely see the results of:

1. Three years to complete our state-of-the-art 911 communications center with computer-aided dispatching, thanks to the leadership of our director, Jeff Polczynski;

2. Two years of working to renovate the historic old jail in Charles Town into county offices;

3. A one-year study by management consultant Sarah Birnbach to prepare our first comprehensive human resources policy, job definitions, and required performance evaluations - all woefully lacking now;

4. Recent first steps to build an indoor swimming pool for the public's benefit from a nontax fund source;

5. What might be a threefold increase in the amount of not-from-taxes funding to be distributed to legitimate community organizations, such as Shepherdstown's sliding-scale day care center;

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6. Two years of searching to apply $1 million to buy a much needed new soccer field(s);

7. Two years to institute community television channels for emergency notification and government information;

8. A seven-month green infrastructure study that will be implemented with the help of a just-hired mapper who uses geo-spatial information techniques (GIS).

Nothing will be more important than to complete what might be a two-year effort by the commission and 10 committees made up of gifted and concerned citizens rewriting our land use ordinances, which have been often described to me by professionals as "30 years behind the times and broken beyond belief." We have had the pleasure of working with Lane Kendig, a planning consultant, well-known as the creator of what is called "performance-based" land use policies.

People have had to live within a maddening maze of regulations that actually contradict, or don't make sense at all.

If we work closely to make the most of Kendig's acclaimed approach (he won a national award for writing Loudoun's comprehensive plan in the early 1980s), the look of Jefferson County - its so-called "character" - will be preserved substantially.

And this can be achieved even while large property owners earn quite significant revenue from their land. The approach relies heavily on data describing natural features such as high-quality woodlands, sinkholes and historic structures - to steer any construction away from such resources. Any development is highly clustered to within as little as 20 percent of the property while the remainder is placed in a permanent conservation easement. Numerous permissions to encourage "green" revenue-producing activity on the land are included.

We'll get there. But we will get to a great future sooner if the County Commission and the town councils within the county coordinate very deliberately to determine the future of the lands surrounding each town. I strongly favor letting each town administer mutually agreed to land use principles in those areas around their respective jurisdictions.

Each can refine these principles to suit their needs while not seriously conflicting with a county-wide land use plan. I also like the idea of the county supporting an unchallenged service area in these same areas around a town administered by the town's water and sewer board. Only when all the towns and the county think with one mind and vision and if we have well-coordinated provision of services, will our people have the wonderful place to live and work that they deserve.

All we have to do is remember who we are and what we have. We have a nationally recognized historic structure for every few hundred residents. Horses have been in our collective blood for more than 200 years. When John Brown was riding on the wagon to his hanging in 1859, he looked up and saw the Blue Ridge and said: "My God, this is a beautiful country." These things add up to what we cherish - the county's "character."

Last, the people of Jefferson are world-champion volunteers and our greatest resources and keeping that community caring spirit alive is foremost. I don't mind people speaking out for or against me. Our residents are passionate about the county and so they should be. It's democracy and we're real good at that, too.

Jim Surkamp is a Jefferson County, W.Va., Commissioner.

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