Stars are aligned for us to move forward

July 31, 2011|By ART CALLAHAM

Last week I wrote about our need as a nation and a state for some vision, as well as a need to solve our governments’ serious financial situations.  So, what about locally, what is our local vision for the future and do we have a government financial problem here in Washington County?  

There is no vision in voting “no” on most new spending ideas, or continuing to vote no on ideas from the past, even if those ideas show the probability of a positive economic return.  

As I noted last week, “how can we …” breeds success; “no we can’t …” portends failure. Somewhere out there are good ideas that deserve a yes.

Locally, a “no” position on spending usually gets you elected. Candidates and some elected folks have wrapped their “just say no” position in noble statements about saving the taxpayer money; yet I’ve seen little tax or fee savings accrue to individual taxpayers.  

Thank heavens — in the last two elections several of the just say no candidates and incumbents were defeated.

On the local governments’ revenue side, I’ve also seen few tax or fee increases that were not directly attributed to inflation or simple cost-of-living/cost-of-doing-business issues.  A little reported fact: Many of our local governments, including the school system, have reasonable reserves (call them rainy day funds if you want).

Some believe that the amount of money our local governments borrow is excessive; however, I have yet to find an economist, bond rating agency or financial analyst that says we are “over borrowed” — most contend that we are either in a solid financial condition or “under borrowed.”

Generally our community is well-managed, albeit on the conservative side. Locally there is no apparent financial crisis. However, for the past 10 years we, as a community, have been “poised” to be an even better place to live; poised to move forward.  

Are we a better place to live; have we, as a community moved forward?

Of course there have been forward moves and quality-of -life successes: The new hospital and the runway extension at the airport are positive examples.  

On the downside, both projects were steeped in community, as well as political, controversy. To some, the process to complete those projects was a long and painful effort. On the upside, I believe the future will prove that the “juice was worth the squeeze.”

So, what now? What’s our local vision for the future?  Will we just continue to be poised? Let me review: Financially our community, at least in the public sector, is in good shape — “no-ism” among elected officials appears to be waning and there seems to be a positive energy and enthusiasm to move forward.

There is an effort to leverage the new airline carrier at the airport in terms of tourism — make Washington County a destination — which is a great idea that can result in jobs.  In fact, there is a renewed effort to leverage the economic viability of the airport with new educational opportunities, expansion in jobs for existing airport tenants and new business — that equates to jobs.  

The community has a plan for the Mount Aetna Farms area that includes a robust transportation network that will link Hagerstown Community College, the Meritus Medical Center and new bio-tech or cybersecurity business entities — more jobs.

This leveraging and planning are great beginnings. As a community we need to get behind these efforts and be positive about bringing them to fruition. But just like the infomercials, “Wait! There’s more!”

In the community there is talk about: new libraries; sports/recreation authority(s); a convention center; sports center improvements; expanding the educational footprint in downtown Hagerstown and the expansion of existing and new agricultural ventures.  

The impetus behind these discussions is jobs and increasing the tax base. So now is the time — the stars are aligned to move this community forward.

An interesting point to consider is the manifestation of not moving forward. The cost of government will continue to increase, if for no other reason than just simple inflation.  

Without corresponding increases in government revenue (through tax base increases and new jobs) local government may devolve into a deficit situation (expenses being greater than revenue).

Of course we can go back to just saying no to any and all ideas that look forward and remain poised — or we can move forward. As a community let’s plan now for the future and get behind that plan — it is time to move beyond poised.

Art Callaham is a Hagerstown resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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