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Tim's 2008 year in review

January 03, 2009|By TIM ROWLAND

January



At the dawn of 2008, there was a clear uneasiness about the state of our national and regional economy. Before year's end, many local residents would be thrown out of work, lose their homes and be forced into selling stink bugs for scrap.

Foreclosures and jobless rates would hit record levels. Massive banks, once regarded as "too big to fail," would do so. The American auto industry would teeter on the brink of extinction. The entire world credit markets would seize up, threatening capitalism and our very way of life.

And true to their ability to always see the "big picture," Washington County residents rise as one to express their outrage when Allegheny Power sends its customers two unsolicited, energy-efficient light bulbs.

This scandal lasts the better part of four months and is the subject of hearings at all levels of state government, including the Public Service Commission and Western Maryland lawmakers.

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These lawmakers, whose votes for electrical deregulation allowed Allegheny to enact massive rate hikes to be paid by its customers, take a serious stand against the light bulb mailing by slapping the company's fingers with a ruler and telling it that it might not get any dessert. The issue only dies when foreclosures leave many residents without any sockets to screw light bulbs into.

In other housing news, builders of the new Westfields subdivision south of Hagerstown -- who sued the county for $7.5 million when the commissioners initially denied the project -- tell county officials that they have been unable to sell the new homes.

This means they won't be able to build a new school-access road they promised to construct as part of the lawsuit settlement that allowed them to move forward. In an ominous sign of things to come, taxpayers are called on to pay for the new road themselves in the form of a no-interest "loan." This time there is no outrage, however, because all Washington County taxpayers are busy standing in line to get into the newly opened Olive Garden restaurant at Valley Mall.

In another sign of hard times, crime is on an upswing, often manifesting itself in heartbreaking ways: A woman is convicted of stealing $6,000 from Goodwill; and a man sticks up the Family Dollar store, making off with 12 singles, a roll of quarters and a porcelain Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer figurine.

Unrest even reaches the state prisons, where violent fights and riots cause a weeklong lockdown after inmates receive a package of energy-efficient light bulbs from Allegheny Power.

And speaking of institutional malaise, tensions run high among Washington County lawmakers when Del. John P. Donoghue announces he will not attend any more delegation meetings because he is sick of listening to Del. Christopher B. Shank "spout off." Shank responds by spouting off at Donoghue and threatening to mail him energy-efficient light bulbs.

There was some good news to report, however, as a company called Chesapeake Biodiesel said it plans to build a plant in Washington County that will produce clean motor fuel out of common soybeans. Upon hearing the news, Rumplestiltskin immediately files suit for patent infringement.

February



In February, all eyes turned to health care as a new law went into effect outlawing smoking everywhere in Maryland with the exception of a limestone cave in Garrett County. In a related story, a major explosion rocks Clear Spring after a farmer -- taking one last drag off his Camel -- tosses the butt into a field of common soybeans.

And after five long years of turmoil, ground is finally broken for the new Washington County Hospital at a ceremony attended by local dignitaries with the exception of Del. John P. Donoghue, who says he is tired of listening to bronchitis patients spouting off.

It's not all sunshine and progress, however. In a hotly contested election, Washington County residents resoundingly defeat a form of government known as Charter Home Rule after confused voters mistakenly believe it involves running a bus to Atlantic City for the purposes of gambling.

But in these times of crisis and uncertainty, one setback will not deter brave lawmakers from doing the crucial work that needs to be done, as evidenced by Del. Kevin Kelly's bill to eliminate light bulb mailings and Sen. Alex X. Mooney's resolution calling for "Freedom for Cuba."

March



But in March, Cuba was far from the minds of people in Williamsport, where Fujicolor Processing announced it would close, leaving 125 people out of work. This is followed by the closing of Rayloc in Hancock, which idles 260. Meanwhile, the Community Action Council reports a sharp increase in foreclosures and Realtors report that homes are taking a record amount of time to sell.

In response to the growing joblessness and homeless, Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. introduces a bill that would expand the number of days that people can hunt for deer with a bow and arrow.

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