County Comment: Commissioners Meeting Highlights

County Comment
Commissioners Meeting Highlights
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners took action on a number of issues in its regular meeting on February 14, 2006.
The Board approved Recreation Department Director Jaime Dick's request to increase charges for summer play camps by $5. The ten-hour play camps, at Marty Snook Park and Clear Spring Park, would increase from $40-45 per week. The 8-hour play camps at other parks would increase from $35-40 per week, Dick said. The measure was discussed last week, but no formal vote was taken. A decision was needed at this time because the Spring-Summer Catalog of Recreation Programs must be printed soon in time to be mailed to consumers.
Two measures affecting the downtown Hagerstown Arts and Entertainment District were approved. Economic Development Commission President John Schnebly and County Attorney Richard Douglas brought two resolutions dealing with Tax Credits and exemptions for the Hagerstown Arts and Entertainment (A&E) District before the Board. The first of the two dealt with admission and amusement tax exemptions. The tax would be waived for eligible activities in any designated arts and entertainment district. The second resolution dealt with property tax credits for eligible activities in an A&E district. Property taxes on eligible properties would be reduced by 50% for a ten-year period, not only for the use of the property, but also for the increased value of the property due to renovations.
Two grants benefiting Emergency Services operations were also approved, as Fire and Emergency Services Division Director John Latimer made presentations. The Board was asked to authorize the Division of Fire and Emergency Services to accept a grant awarded to the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) by the 2006 Maryland State Right-To-Know Fund. The Maryland Department of the Environment offers grant funding to local jurisdictions to assist with the operational costs of the LEPC. The total award was $10,000.
A second request was to authorize the Division of Fire and Emergency Services to accept an Emergency Number Systems Board Grant Award for fiber diversity at Fire and Rescue Communications in the amount of $179,017.00. The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Emergency Number Systems Board grant will enable the 9-1-1 Center to install fiber optic diversity on its incoming telephone lines. The fiber will replace existing copper cable telephone lines and lessen the exposure to lightning and other electrical impulses adversely effecting the operation. Latimer explained that the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch operation was partially disrupted last summer, when lightning struck a nearby building. Fiber-optic cable conducts light instead of electricity and lightning strikes would not cause problems if fiber were used at the dispatch center, Latimer said.
The Board also gave Installment Payment Program (IPP) payment schedules for Agricultural Land Preservation on three properties. Land Preservation Administrator Eric Seifarth brought the measures to Public Hearing. 498 acres of Farmland owned by Bruce Barr in Smithsburg, Tony Arena in Clear Spring, and Terry Price in Sharpsburg would be permanently preserved through the program. In an effort to expand the land preservation program the Board of County Commissioners adopted an Installment Payment Program to be able to leverage County Excise tax funds of $400,000 per year for agricultural easements, over a ten-year payment plan. Using County excise tax funds, the cost for these three projects at easement value plus interest, equals $1,883,452.22. Estimated title and settlement costs average about $1,800 for each property, bringing the total projected cost for these three properties to $1,888,852.22. The measures were taken to Public Hearing but no one appeared to make comment either for or against the measures. The IPP's were approved by unanimous vote.