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Candidates for Wash. Co. Commissioner speak out on issues

UPDATE -

August 27, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS
  • Washington County Commissioner candidates participate in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Washington County Thursday night at St. John's Episcopal Church in Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Candidates for Washington County Commissioner shared their ideas for going green, helping small businesses and keeping an airline at Hagerstown Regional Airport during a forum hosted Thursday evening by the League of Women Voters of Washington County at St. Johns Episcopal Church.

Moderators asked 10 questions to the group at large and called on about five candidates to answer each one, giving the candidates two minutes per question.

Candidate John Munson answered the most questions, offering responses to six of the 10, while incumbent Commissioners' President John F. Barr answered only one question and candidate Charlie Henson did not answer any, declining even when called on at one point by the moderator.

Henson said in his opening remarks that he is "new to the political game" but wants to change things for the better.

"I won't be as good as most of the speakers, and I can't pontificate on how we're going to correct the problems," he said. "But I will tell you that I've been a resident of this county, and I'm truly concerned about it, for my entire 58 years."

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Candidate Jeff Cline was not at the forum because it conflicted with a fundraiser he had already scheduled, moderators said.

Job creation

The first question posed to the commissioners asked what sort of jobs the county needs and what steps the commissioners could take to attract those jobs.

Candidate Bill McKinley said the county needs to attract jobs related to new technologies and new sciences and said the commissioners could do that by continuing to support related educational efforts like the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program at Hagerstown Community College.

"I believe that employers look at counties where there's a workforce that's trained, ready to go, and I think the STEM program is the right thing to do," he said.

Incumbent Commissioner Terry Baker said the county needs to work to attract all levels of jobs.

"Every area of employment in our community has been hit, from low-wage jobs to high-wage jobs," he said.

Baker also said the county should focus on helping employers who will hire local workers instead of bringing an outside workforce with them, unless that outside workforce consists of high-income workers whose affluence will trickle down to the rest of the county.

Candidate Joe Lane enumerated three primary areas for job creation: distribution, Fort Detrick-centered government technology, and small businesses. He said the county should promote its location at the intersection of Interstates 70 and 81 to attract distribution companies, focus on STEM education to support Fort Detrick jobs, and use the resources of the Economic Development Commission to support small businesses.

"I would like to have the EDC focus more of its energy toward making it easier for small businesses to get up and running in this county, rather than just always focusing on big businesses," Lane said.

Green energy

In another question, the candidates were asked if there was a plan to move the county away from dependence on fossil fuels, what they saw as critical elements of that plan.

Candidate John "Jack" Miller said the county should look into alternative energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy and be prepared to move into some of those areas when the time is right.

"They are all very expensive to get into, but once you are into those programs, it takes a few years, but you get your pay back and you do move away from dependence on fossil fuels," he said.

Candidate Walter C. Frazee said he would advise moving very slowly in adopting alternative energy sources, an area he described as "so uncertain."

"The county would not want to get into any big changes right away unless stats show it's something that really is going to benefit the county," he said.

Barr said the county was "much further ahead of the curve than we might think" on green initiatives.

For example, he said two of the county's newest schools are being built with elaborate geothermal heating and cooling systems. Also, Hagerstown Community College's new STEM building is incorporating a small wind farm and solar farm for educational purposes and the county has updated its building codes to include up-to-date energy efficiency standards, Barr said.

Businesses

The candidates were asked in another question what they would do to support small businesses in the county and attract more businesses to the area.

Candidate Robin Lynn Wivell listed a number of strategies including improving infrastructure, ensuring a well-trained workforce, and offering tax incentives if necessary.

Wivell also said she thought the county should consider reorganizing the Economic Development Commission to cut its operating expenses and using that money to bring in small businesses.

"The bottom line is they're receiving three-quarters of a million dollars," she said. "They need to justify what they are doing" with that funding.

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