County Comment: State of the County Address First for Barr
State of the County Address First for Barr
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer
On February 6, 2007, Washington County Board of County Commissioners' President John Barr presented his first State of the County address. The 2006-2010 Commissioners took office in December.
Barr addressed a number of areas critical to growth and development of Washington County, including education, public safety, public works, environmental impacts or limitations on sewer capacity, and economic development.
Barr called Washington County a jurisdiction on the move. "The county is evolving from a primarily rural county to a sophisticated and dynamic community. Washington County is well on its way to becoming a vibrant, mid-sized Maryland county," he said.
Barr cited a greater expectation of efficient public services fro those moving into the County and said the commissioners are committed to providing the level of services expected by the citizens in the most responsible way, balancing the needs for services with the resources available to county government.
A primary need is for additional classroom space for a K-12 school population that grew. In from 19,411 to 21,057, or 8.4 percent from 200 to 2007. "The commissioners are committed to addressing the issue of overcrowded hallways and portable classrooms. In 2007, we will see construction begin on three new elementary schools, Maugansville, Westfields and Pangborn. These three schools will go a long way toward addressing the curriculum and capacity needs for our school children, Barr said
Early estimates for the construction cost of these schools is around 75 million dollars and Finding funding for the projects is a challenge the Commissioners will face. Education is the largest expenditure for Washington County government with approximately 60 percent of total operational expenditures dedicated to the schools. This does not include the Board of Education's capital requests that are expected to reach $53.6 million in the coming fiscal year. The State of Maryland is expected to contribute up about 35 percent of the school construction total this year. County citizens, will have to cover the shortfall, Barr said.
Operational funding for the school system is improving but capital funding is lacking given our construction needs. "The commissioners are just now beginning the budget review process for Fiscal Year '08. We are committed to realizing the three new elementary schools. Therefore, we will be making some tough choices on funding. There will be a significant increase in capital funding for the Board of Education. However, reaching our funding demands will require a partnership between the BOE, the state, the county and the construction industry, Barr said.
Public Safety is another area of importance, with the 2006 19.4 million-dollar state-of-the-art public safety radio communications system in the design phase. The system could be available for use as early as August 2008. All entities involved in public safety, including surrounding jurisdictions, will be able to communicate on the same radio system, when the project is completed.
In FY '08 the county's Division of Fire and Emergency Services will begin relocate its offices, including the 9-1-1-dispatch center, to Elliott Parkway. This will create a consolidated dispatch center for all aspects of public safety including the City of Hagerstown Police, the Sheriff's Department, fire and emergency medical services. The move will provide greater efficiency in these operations, Barr said. In addition, the legislative support of a central booking facility for all law enforcement remains a priority.
A comprehensive Emergency Medical Services Plan for the county is nearing reality. All EMS stakeholders have collaborated on the plan that would address supplemental career personnel to support volunteers in their efforts to provide 24-hour emergency medical services, and preserve the volunteer concept in the County. An Emergency Services Fee Taskforce has been appointed, and is expected to make its report in the early spring.
Barr said that the commissioners intend to preserve Washington County's volunteer organizations while creating an overall emergency services system that is flexible and can adapt to needs of the growing community.
A number of Public Works projects are on the horizon that will improve traffic patterns. The upgrade to Maugans Avenue will begin this spring at a cost of 7.3 million dollars. Reconstruction of the Mt. Aetna Road and Route 40 intersection will also begin this spring. Cooperative efforts between the county, the City of Hagerstown and the State of Maryland, funding has also been secured for the upgrade of the Edgewood Drive and Route 40 interchange. Work on the Halfway Boulevard and Massey Boulevard intersection is expected to begin in 2008. Estimates for that project are around 5.2 million.
Widening Robinwood Drive to Hagerstown Community College, a 5.8 million project, is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2008. The county's Pavement Maintenance Program added more than 40 miles of pavement patching, sealing, overlay and reconstruction to our roads network this fiscal year.
Also on the horizon are increased federal and state regulations on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants that can flow to the Chesapeake Bay from our water resources that will impact our future sewer capacity and will govern how our communities grow. By 2009, we must update all our long-term comprehensive plans to reflect the restrictions. This will require significant cooperation between Washington County and the municipalities.
Barr told the 200 business and government representatives that the County is taking aggressive steps to attract the right kinds of companies to Washington County, citing Advanced Manufacturing as a large portion of the workforce, along with Aeronautical Systems Manufacturing companies, and the Satellite telecommunications industry.
Redevelopment of Fort Ritchie was seen as one of the largest economic development projects to ever occur in Washington County. Corporate Office Properties Trust (C-O-P-T) is headquartered in Howard County and owns 186 properties, including the 2 million square foot National Business Park adjacent to Fort Mead. COPT's first significant project will be construction of a Community Center. The facility's cost is being shared by COPT and PenMar Development Corporation and will house fitness equipment, a gymnasium, basketball courts, multi-purpose rooms and possibly soccer and softball fields. The facility is in the design phase now and could be open to the community in the third quarter of 2008. Rounding out the project will be the construction and rehab of nearly 1.7 million square feet of commercial space plus 673 residential units. COPT expects to invest 256 million dollars and create approximately 4,500 jobs Barr said.
Hagerstown Regional Airport is host to some 40 companies employing more than 1,000 individuals. Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada Corporation are in the aeronautical systems manufacturing and installation industry. Other companies do maintenance repair and overhaul work, like Royal Aircraft Services and Hagerstown Aircraft. General aviation business services, include companies such as Midwest Air Traffic and The Rider Jet Center.
The runway improvement program is progressing, Barr said. The runway bridges have been completed as has the relocation of Route 11, and the project continues to come in on time and on budget
Barr said that the next four years will be transition years for Washington County.
"Our challenge will be how to efficiently offer and fund all of the public services and capital programs needed with our available revenue stream. There will be some tough choices to make while we stay mindful of our solid fiscal management responsibility. We have been very fortunate to receive increased revenues during the residential and economic spike over the past few years. The development numbers are now returning to normalcy, but we have been left with greater expectations on government services. Therefore, state financial support will be important. We must continue to lobby our state representatives to insure we receive strong education and transportation funding, Barr said and asked the business community to continuer its assistance in the lobbying effort.