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BRAC might bring back some jobs lost when Ritchie closed

September 12, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

When the Base Realignment and Closure Commission took action to close the Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base in 1998, Washington County took an economic wound that has taken almost a decade to begin to heal.

Now BRAC has made some other decisions and although they affect bases in other states - including Fort Monmouth, N.J. - Donna Brightman, a member of the county School Board, said this week she's worried that the transfer of jobs to Maryland might actually cost this county money.

Why? Because, Brightman said, most of the transferred jobs will go to places such as Fort George Meade in Anne Arundel County and Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md.

Counties that can't show any impact from the BRAC job transfers could lose funding, including school funds, Brightman said, as the state transfers cash to other, larger counties.

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"We could be hit pretty hard in this county," Brightman said.

Not only might Washington County lose funding, but because it's a relatively easy commute to the big cities and land prices are still below the metro areas' costs, Brightman said this area could become a bedroom community.

Whether or not that happens, Brightman said, might depend on whether local representatives are "in the room" when decisions are made.

To get that access, she has won approval from the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce to set up a task force.

Some of its members and their areas of expertise include:

Don Bowman, a local developer and trucking company operator, who will look at transportation issues.

Joe Kroboth, Washington County's public works director and the former head of emergency services, will look at public safety and security-clearance issues.

Tim Troxell and Cassandra Latimer, of the county's Economic Development Department, will work on getting local contractors certified to work on projects that require security clearances.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan and School Board member Ruth Callaham will work on school funding issues.

Rich Rook, executive director of the PenMar Development Corp., will work with military agencies.

Robert Garver, of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, will work on state issues.

Brien Poffenberger, president of the Chamber, will act as the liaison between the task force and the Chamber's executive board.

Brightman said that as difficult as it might seem, there is a real opportunity to tailor some local education programs to the requirements of jobs that will be coming here from other bases. Brightman said there will be some job opportunities, because not everyone who works at (for example) Fort Monmouth, N.J., will want to relocate.

"Over the next five years, there will be an influx of new people into the state. If we sit here and don't do something, it's all going to pass us by," she said.

Brightman said the plan for now is for the group to meet a couple of times, get some fact sheets together, then report to the chamber's executive board.

The next meeting has been scheduled and is open to the public, Brightman said.

But because the conference room where the sessions are scheduled (for now) is a small one, she's asking that those who want to attend call her and RSVP. Her number is 301-491-3178.

If your call is not answered immediately, please be patient. Brightman and family are dealing with a relative's serious illness.

The next meeting is set for Monday, Sept. 17, at 7:30 a.m. Call Brightman for the precise location.

My thoughts: The problem with becoming a bedroom community is that the development that occurs is primarily residential, which typically requires the county to spend more for services than it collects in taxes.

Commuters leave the area early in the day, return late and thus are prevented from becoming involved in the community. If Washington County must house the workers for those BRAC jobs, someone needs to work hard to make sure some of the companies that subcontract for the government come here, too.

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

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