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Washington County joins Maryland Rural Counties Coalition

December 12, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Washington County has officially joined three other Western Maryland counties in a coalition that will hire two lobbyists to represent their "unique needs and perspectives" in Annapolis, according to a press release issued Monday.

Washington, Allegany, Frederick and Carroll counties are participating in the group, which is called the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition.

The coalition was created because of the member counties' dissatisfaction with PlanMaryland, a proposed statewide comprehensive plan, Washington County Commissioners President Terry Baker said.

The Washington County commissioners voted Nov. 1 to contribute up to $5,000 toward hiring a lobbyist to represent the Western Maryland counties in regards to PlanMaryland. Baker confirmed Monday that the per-county contribution will be $5,000.

"It's not that we're against PlanMaryland," Baker said. "It's that we would like to see it go through the legislative process, and we would like our legislators to have an opportunity to look at the plan before it's implemented and to make sure it fits what we stand for in Western Maryland."

The coalition will retain Bruce C. Bereano and William R. Miles as its lobbyists, the press release said.

"Many of the delegation members throughout Western Maryland spoke very highly of Mr. Bereano, and he's one of the most sought-after lobbyists in the state of Maryland," Baker said of the choice.

The coalition decided to retain two lobbyists so one — Bereano — can focus on working with politicians while the other — Miles — works with staff, Baker said.

The coalition will continue beyond the end of the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session, Baker said. The group plans to meet two to four times each year, he said.

The coalition is interested in seeing other rural counties join, and several counties are seeking to form a broader coalition called AWARE, or the Association of Western, Agricultural, Rural, Eastern Shore Counties, the press release said.

"Rural Maryland often finds itself at a strategic disadvantage from policy decisions made by the Maryland General Assembly because the non-rural counties often speak as one, thus prevailing," Blaine Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, said in the coalition's press release.

Baker was quoted in the release as hailing the coalition as a "historic first" in Maryland.

He said in a phone interview that while commissioners from various Western Maryland counties have met in the past, they have never before joined to hire a lobbyist to work for their common interests.

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