Online chat with John Barr

February 18, 2007

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, The Herald-Mail held an online chat with John Barr, president of the Washington County Commissioners. What follows is an edited transcript of that chat.

Our next scheduled chat will be Tuesday, March 13, at 1 p.m. with Dee Mayberry, a member of the Maryland Commission for Women, a nonpartisan group that, among other things, studies and recommends legislation dealing with women's issues.

Daniel: Less than 10 percent of the Rural Legacy areas in the county have been permanently protected and most of that protection was purchased with state funds. Do you believe that more county funds should be used to permanently protect the Rural Legacy Areas?

John Barr: I do believe that additional funds are necessary in an effort to protect the Rural Legacy areas of the county. However, I think much of these funds will need to come from either transfer fees or TDRs (Transferable Development Rights).


This is an area where we need more discussion and insight by an appointed study committee making recommendations to the full board of commissioners for their evaluation and implementation.

Bette: This community once valued our farming heritage, but now most of our farm ground has gone to developers. How can you help this situation?

Barr: I take exception to the statement that most of the agricultural ground in Washington County has been previously purchased by developers. It is my intention to work as a member of the full board of county commissioners to create planned growth areas, particularly in the Urban Growth Areas.

In the more rural farming communities, it is difficult for me to envision individual remote small subdivisions being served by inadequate roads, water and septic difficulties, and lacking public facilities (i.e. gas, electric).

Ruth: During the campaign last fall, you were quoted as saying you could bring understanding and common sense to the county government. How are you doing that?

Barr: As a businessman, many years ago I learned several areas of self-discipline. They include being one that sets an example in time management, being respectful of others' feelings, being a team player and being willing to negotiate, particularly when it involves the betterment of the citizens and employees of Washington County.

They also include running county government as if it were my own personal business, taking all issues very seriously and acting with utmost concern.

Efficiencies of government agencies and the cooperation of county and municipalities are of particular interest and importance to all the citizens of Washington County.

Bette:Will you support the ag specialist position in the budget this year?

Barr: Yes, I would continue to support the ag specialist position. It is currently funded for one half of the '07 budget cycle, which runs July '06 through June of '07. I am in favor of fully funding for the '08 budget cycle. However, please keep in mind that the position has not been filled to date.

Much discussion has occurred, and needs to continue as to the qualifications, expectations and duties in an effort to fill this vacant position. During the previous administration, deliberation centered around this position being under the realm of the economic development department. The actual office location and field position would better be housed at the Ag Center's Extension Service offices.

Moderator: In your April 2006 announcement that you were running for office, you said, "Our rural heritage is at risk with the impending growth." Can the county help find a way to make farming more profitable?

Barr: Being a gentleman farmer myself, I realize firsthand the importance, dedication, extreme hard work and long hours that farming life entails. Profitability of farming, particularly on the small and family-owned scale, is increasingly being pressured by both land values and uncertainty in market pricing of agricultural products on a national scale.

On a governmental level, tax assessments for active and working farms need to be held at a constant value and/or reduced.

Secondly, a joint effort of state, local, along with agricultural extension services are needed to assist the farming community in a number of areas. Co-ops could help in purchasing such items as fuels, electricity, feed, fertilizers and other such items. Also, government could and should take a more active role in promoting the development of both high-tech and bio-tech - organically produced secondary fuels.

Jim: The county needs to find $75 million for school construction in the next two years. The School Excise Tax is now expected to be $11 million less than was previously planned.

The APFO exempts "Elderly Housing" developments from paying the School Excise Tax. More than 1,050 of those housing units have already been approved. The developer gets the exemption but isn't required to pass the savings on to the home buyer.

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