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Aleshire: What we've been doing

April 28, 2007

Given the number of editorials and comments directed toward the new Board of Washington County Commissioners in recent weeks, it is apparent that some reply is warranted, if only to confirm we are present and accounted for. Due to limited space, I will try to address each briefly.

·In reply to Joe Lane's April 1 letter, I would offer the following (and final) response: The Washington County Hospital agreement has no cap, no elected body ever made any promises in 1991 and the road project numbers are only your opinion. Painting me pro-developer in your response was amusing - inaccurate, but amusing. If you still believe otherwise, I'll be more than happy to explain each to you directly.

·I was advised to make my response to Meredith Fouche's April 11 letter "more positive," so I will summarize here, positively. In my short term, I have not received a letter, e-mail, phone call, visit or seen Mr. Fouche at a meeting of the BOCC. That makes his opinion that we have done nothing so far that much more puzzling.

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Had he done any of these, he would be able to report on the hiring of a new county administrator, restructuring of departments, attending to 52 boards and commissions, weekly evening departmental orientations, citizen correspondence follow-up, legislative meetings, hours of budget review, planning and zoning hearings, or our recent goal-setting sessions to develop guidance as a collective body for the next four years.

I agree with him on several points in his letter; we will not be able to please everyone all of the time and we do need to diversify our employment opportunities. Thanks for the other letter about seeking knowledge from your elders. I fully agree.

Donna Brightman and I typically share a good line of communication, and to her April 12 letter on Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC), this issue needs attention as it relates to managing the effect that it will have on our public services and preservation of our quality of life. If we do not take care of those issues, any amount of jobs or housing that BRAC may create in the future are moot.

Are we ready for 40,000 to 60,000 people to descend upon our county tomorrow? No. Should we update our county water/sewer and comprehensive plans, inventory our public resources and create structural stability in our budget? Yes. These are the "top of the umbrella" issues and doing this will allow BRAC to fit under it appropriately. Growing our government by spending the public's money to create a BRAC coordinator at this point is premature.

I disagree that we are insulated from state issues. If so, then we would not be at the forefront of regulatory changes and funding of water and sewer, nor receiving increases in parks, preservation and educational funding. Others would not be looking at our local gaming commission as a state model and we wouldn't have been designated as one of the first state Arts & Entertainment districts.

·The most recent, and probably most surprising, is the hospital-related comments from state Sen. Donald Munson, for whom I have the utmost respect and admiration. It has never been the county's responsibility to build something for a developer, but to ensure that development proceeds efficiently through the review and approval process.

I do not fault Sen. Munson for being passionate about moving the hospital forward, nor do I take at full face value the context in which the comments were "reported," but we need to put this issue in context.

For example, the health system in its site-selection process was informed by their own legal counsel in 2002 that zoning would need to be accomplished on the Robinwood site, and were reminded of this time and again in 2003, 2004, and 2005. So why, knowing full well there would be citizen opposition tying up zoning approval at the site, did the health system wait until December 2005 to seek zoning approval?

Now in the 11th hour, after the City of Hagerstown has accepted the State Maryland Health Care Commission's Certificate Of Need decision and granted water/sewer andafter the county has fast tracked the project through development review, why would any member of the state delegation want to strip citizens of their state-enabled rights to appeal zoning and claim that it's because the local government did not do a developer's project for them?

Would those public officials who support raising the filing fees for a citizen's right to appeal it's government's zoning decisions also support raising a candidate's filing fees to run for public office to accomplish the same thing?

Kristin Aleshire is a Washington County Commissioner.

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