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Commissioners Hear Public Testimony on Farm Preservation

Commissioners Hear Public Testimony on Farm Preservation

In its regular meeting on January 6th, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners heard comments from citizens on the need to maintain ten-year Agricultural Preservation Districts.
In the Public Hearing four local farmers testified in favor of retaining the Districts after the State of Maryland chose to discontinue the program, on July 1st, 2008. Counties can choose whether to continue the District Agreement, or to allow landowners to apply directly for easement sale.
The Advisory Board had voted to continue with ten year District Agreements in order to maintain the tax credit program, and as a means for landowners showing a commitment to agriculture while waiting for funding for an easement sale.
In addition to the members of the Advisory Board, the Washington County Farm Bureau also indicated support for retention of Ag Districts.
The issue was reviewed on December 2nd, 2008, and four weeks were allowed to receive public input. The issue will be brought back to the Board for final approval on January 13th.
The Board approved accepting two grants and supporting a third for the Sheriff's Department. The Comprehensive Anti-Gang Activity Strategy Grant will supply $72,461.00 to fight gang activity in the County, and the Law Enforcement Technology Grant will bring in $20,000 to assist in digital recording of suspect interrogations. Chief Deputy Colonel Randy Wilkinson also alerted the Board to a $72,000 grant for vehicles and equipment to enforce child-support in the County.
Human Resources Director Bill Sonnik introduced Fred Nugent, recently hired as a Planner in the Department of Planning and Urban Development to the Board.
The Board approved a request by Public Works Director Joe Kroboth to accept state funding for a joint project with the State Highway Administration to improve sidewalks in the area of Sharpsburg Elementary School. The $58,401.00 cost would be paid entirely by SHA.
Kroboth and Division of Environmental Management Director Julie Pippel fielded Commissioners' questions about possibilities for funding of projects through the recently announced economic stimulus program announced by President-Elect Barack Obama. Kroboth told the Board that the criteria for funding include projects that are ready to break ground, those ready to go to bid within 180 days and those eligible for construction within two years. Pippel stated that the County is seeking input from the Maryland Department of the Environment on the state's involvement in the stimulus program. Further information on the potential for federal funds will be presented to the Board in two weeks.
The Commissioners heard progress reports from Department Heads on Goals for the 2006-2010 term. Director of Special Projects Gary Rohrer discussed development of standards for streets in subdivisions, and public roadway sidewalks. Jennifer Smith, Deputy Director of Public Works for Engineering-Land Development presented an update on development of a Storm Waiter Management program reflecting latest regulatory action. Recreation Department Director Jaime Dick reported on the County-wide recreation needs assessment plan, as well as the completed goal for development of school-based community recreation programs. Parks, Recreation and Facilities Director Jim Sterling also reported on the comprehensive needs assessment for Parks and Recreation, planning for maintenance activity at the new main Library building, and evaluation of an "annual pass" for play at Black Rock Golf Course.
Transit Department Director Kevin Cerrone reported on completion of the transfer point evaluation, updating County Commuter routes and a feasibility survey of service to the South County area. Addition of the service on a regular basis to the southern part of the county would cost about $380,000 per year. Bus Shelters have been funded, but are on hold pending route realignment. A ride-guide has been developed and will be disseminated within the next several months, Cerrone reported. Hagerstown Regional Airport Director Carolyn Motz addressed progress on a plan for integration of airport security data with the Sheriff's Office, and the analysis of infrastructure needs for further business development at the airfield. A general goal has been to assist the Commission on Aging in finding a permanent Senior Center location. COA Director Susan MacDonald reported that a plan to lease additional space on the 5th floor of the Aspiring to Serve building would save about $65,000 in costs compared to the current lease with Girls', Inc. Additional reports will be given on the goals at next week's meeting.

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