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A few thoughts, as the Greg Murray era begins

March 07, 2007|by BOB MAGINNIS

After two weeks out of the office, I spent this past Sunday morning catching up on what had happened while I was gone.

For me, the most interesting story was the Washington County Commissioners' decision to name Greg Murray Washington County administrator. I feel that way for several reasons.

The first is that Murray, whose last job was as head of the Department of Water Quality, becomes administrator at a time when water and sewer issues are more important than ever.

In an interview last July, Murray and Merle Elliott, who chaired a two-year study of the county's water and sewer issues, told me that as part of an effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland has put a moratorium on the expansion of sewer plants.

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What that means is that whatever sewer capacity the county has now is what it will have to work with, barring a great leap in technology that will result in much purer effluent.

Promise too much of what's left to residential developers and there might not be enough left to offer to new businesses. It is, Elliott said, a finite resource that must be used carefully.

Other facts that are interesting - to me, at least - include:

Murray is the county's third administrator to come from an area other than city or county management. Rod Shoop was airport manager before he was administrator and the late Barry Teach came from the county planning department.

Even though the county commissioners have said that Murray's wife, County Finance Director Debra Murray, will report to them and not to him, it's clear that they will have to spend much time together on the county's financial matters.

Working with one's spouse on a household budget is tough enough. For their willingness to work together on a multi-million-dollar government budget, I must say that these two are brave and dedicated souls indeed.

In his Sunday story with Tara Reilly, Murray said growing up in Hancock near the water and mountains gave him an appreciation of the quality of life here. Perhaps he can persuade the commissioners to put more money into the preservation of farmland and open space, while the easements are still affordable.

Just as important, Murray or someone in county government should be assigned to watch the progress being made as Winchester and Frederick County, Va., look at how to merge services and possibly governments. Some of us old-timers have gotten tired of the inability of Hagerstown and Washington County governments to see the advantage of working more closely together.

Maybe it was because of the low-key style of former Commissioners President Greg Snook, but at times it seemed as if the commissioners were working for the administrator, instead of the other way around. I don't foresee that with Murray, who I predict will speak up when he feels he must, but won't try to set the agenda for the county board.

Murray will also have to deal with the 40 West Landfill, which is filling up a great deal faster than anticipated. As someone who has been hauling my own refuse for more than 20 years, here are my thoughts on what's wrong.

Anyone who goes to either the transfer stations or the main landfill will see there is way too much recyclable material, mostly cardboard, going into the bins.

It's also obvious that neighbors are sharing permits; there are too many people coming in with a dozen or more 30-gallon bags every week.

It won't be popular, but stationing people at the bins and telling residents to recycle would help. Permit-sharing will be a tougher nut to crack, but perhaps with each year's permit, landfill officials could issue stickers for the equivalent of four bags of waste per week.

Too drastic? In February, the commissioners awarded a $130,000 contract for the design of a fourth landfill cell, which will cost millions to build. Residents must decide whether they want to recycle now or pay higher fees later.

And speaking of recycling and conservation, earlier this month we traveled down south via Interstate 95. At two states' rest stops, the men's rooms featured waterless urinals,.

Signs claimed each unit would save 40,000 gallons of water each year. I hope someone is looking at this option for those new schools now on the drawing board.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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