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County has been working hard to save taxpayers' money

April 19, 2009|By KRISTIN ALESHIRE

In anticipation of the current Hagerstown city election, The Herald-Mail will be publishing responses to the following question on May 10, "Would you follow in the footsteps of the Washington County government and support the creation of public jobs at a time when the private sector is making personnel cuts to remain fiscally solvent?"

When I called The Herald-Mail about this question, their first response was, "how did you get these questions?" as if they were a secret. The second was, "this question makes no inference about the fiscal solvency of Washington County government." I would agree - if it didn't mention Washington County, or government, or personnel, or fiscal, or solvent, or ... well, you get the point.

The Herald-Mail then conveyed that "this question didn't have anything to do with the editorial thumbs down" that suggested the county not approve "new personnel positions at a time when many county residents are dealing with being laid off" by private companies. I guess they forgot about previously supporting the Central Booking and 911 Center projects that funding for these positions will go toward.

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Then came the impassioned justification that the reporting and editorial departments are completely separate, which I have heard so many times with such conviction that I envision any cross between the two to be as catastrophic as the streams crossing as Egon explains it to Bill Murray in "Ghostbusters." Of course, both are in the business of searching for ghosts in the machine, so I guess that somehow it makes sense.

Not that it's fruitful to fight the shadows within the minds of local media, but in an effort to clear the air, I'd like to share what this county has been doing while private businesses and other public entities have faltered on declining industry layoffs and unexpected budgetary shortfalls.

For expenditure reductions we have:Reduced property taxes due to increased state assessments by nearly $30 million, improved the county bond rating from A1/A-plus to AA, reducing interest by $57 million, restructured existing debt, saving an additional $15 million, limited operating increases each year to less than 2 percent, saving nearly $4 million, consolidated public safety service functions with Central Booking and the 911 Center, saving $1 million annually, absorbed 50 percent increases of nearly $2 million in utility costs via energy efficiency, and established internal policies that demand prioritized accountability for funding requests from all departments and agencies for operations and capital projects.

For revenue enhancement we have: Increased municipal shared revenues by nearly $2 million, increased education maintenance funds by more than $5 million, increased transportation improvement funds by more than $5 million, requested legislation to implement tax relief to benefit seniors and renters by nearly $2 million annually and invested just a bit more than $4 million in county funds to bring in $570 million in private funds to create more than 1,500 new jobs and retain more than 2,800.

I assume at about this time, with all of these figures, folks in both departments are wandering about The Herald-Mail like Rick Moranis in "Ghostbusters," looking for the keymaster.

So, for the gatekeepers at The Herald-Mail, that's more than $100 million in savings and $20 million in public investment. This is by no means a full list, just a brief summary of some of the larger initiatives being carried out with the public's trust that we be fiscally solvent.

Odd how little coverage these boring details get and how many of them The Herald-Mail continually urges the public to support, such as consolidation, tax relief, education and road improvements.

I probably nag the paper a bit too often about these minor details known as the facts, and they usually respond with, "good points, you should write a letter about it."

But just once I'd like to hear the surprising notion of, "I guess we should have researched the issue before making assumptions. We'll do a follow-up article to correct the misleading impression we gave to the public."

But that would probably take a crossing of media streams, and like the Ghostbusters, we all know what happens when you concentrate all that power on too much fluff.

Kristin Aleshire is a Washington County Commissioner who lives in Hagerstown.

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