County Comment: Commissioners Look at Future Needs

County Comment
Commissioners Look at Future Needs
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners is currently tasking on two of the toughest assignments it will face this year. Planning four-year strategic goals, and setting the Fiscal 2008 budget.
Commissioner Jim Kercheval, in his second term, said in a recent interview that major items for concern by the Commissioners are the excise taxes and the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance workforce housing initiatives, environmental concerns and striking a balance between controlling growth and enhancing economic development.
One major step has already been taken, Kercheval said, in combining the Water Quality and Solid Waste departments into a new Department of Environmental Management
New federal and state mandates will require additional environmental nutrient removal from wastewater returned to tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.
The new mandate "...has really changed the way you look at a lot of your government procedures and policies, and everything is going to have to revolve around that in the future, so we are going to have to make sure we can handle that volume of workload in water testing and analysis that's going to be required by some of these new mandates," the Commissioner said.
How the Commissioners conduct their meetings is also being reviewed. More night meetings and meetings in municipalities are being considered. The Commissioners' meeting agenda, which had been issued on the Friday before the meeting on Tuesday, is now put out a week ahead, to give the Board additional time to study the issues it will decide upon, and to give citizens additional time to see what's on the Commissioners' weekly "plate" in case they want to participate in the meeting.
Brainstorming sessions are underway, with the Commissioners' meeting on April 10th held for planning purposes only. Departments submitted goals and objectives for the coming fiscal year, and the Board reviewed those goals to see which would become County initiatives. Ideas ranged from planning for a new Highways Department central facility to how streets are accepted for maintenance by the County. Long-range transportation planning was one area of focus for the Commissioners. Additional planning sessions will be held in the coming weeks, and strategies to achieve planned goals will. Be developed.
One major goal the Commissioners will adopt will be comprehensive rezoning of the Urban Growth Area. Kercheval says that sewer allocation will be a driving force in that process.
"We've noticed that the future for Economic Development involves high-end, high-tech businesses. These businesses want to locate in specific types of neighborhoods, with mixed-use-commercial and residential," Kercheval said.
"We want to make sure we have proper types of zoning in place that will attract those types of businesses," he said.
The housing boom in Washington County has leveled off, but Kercheval said some of the controls designed to curb runaway growth might lead to a rebound.
"As we were moving forward we were allowing development under certain circumstances. We had issues with Adequate Public Facilities and schools in particular, where developments were held up or not allowed to move forward. That allowed us not to flood the market with housing units, so our inventory was not as high as some of the neighboring Counties," Kercheval said.
"So, when the market comes back I think we will use that inventory up and get back in the process of building a little quicker. The low level of units is not generating the excise tax revenue we were depending on for several of these new schools that we have in the works," he said.
I think it could turn around as quickly as it slowed down, then we would be back in the other position where we were trying to manage the growth. I do feel comfortable within some of the growth management measures we have in place. I do think we have been a model for other counties," he said.
"I have had calls from press up in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area asking how we got some of the things adopted that we did, and wanting to use us as a model," Kercheval said.
"Growth kind of comes whether you want it or not, and our point is to make sure we manage it the best way possible," he said.