County Comment: Commissioners' President John Barr On County Government

County Comment
Commissioners' President John Barr On County Government
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

The Washington County Board of County Commissioners for the 2006-2010 term took office last December, and the first 6 months of 2007 have seen a whirlwind of meetings to bring the three new Commissioners, President John Barr, Vice-President Terry Baker and Commissioner Kristin Aleshire up to speed on the way County Government operates.
Crafting the $309 million unified budget for Fiscal Year 2008, which began July 1st was the first step as the new Board got into the swing of this term.
Commissioners' President Barr recently talked about short and long-term goals and objectives the Board will face in the next 4 years. Filling several important staff positions, including Director of Human Resources, and the major departmental consolidation of Solid Waste and Water Quality into the new Division of Environmental Management are among the first things that will be undertaken this fiscal year.
"I think County government is in good hands, the County Administrator is doing a good job. I'm very pleased with where things are, attitudes and direction of the County," Barr said
The perception of County government operations is somewhat different from the reality, Barr found, as the orientation sessions called "Commissioners 101" in the early months of this year extended the new Board members' learning curves.
"I thought I knew a lot about County government but Commissioners 101 throughout the first three and a half months was rather daunting and overwhelming," Barr said. " I really didn't realize we had so many departments and different entities of government. Most people don't realize how complex and involved County government is, for what is considered to be a rural county way out here in western Maryland."
One of the first issues the new Commissioners faced was establishing and authorizing a Task Force to review the County's excise tax.
"We've given this excise tax review committee the charge of looking at other counties, of reviewing our existing excise tax ordinance and coming back to the Commissioners with their thoughts, their recommendations as to the structure, and to the levels of fees charged. Hopefully we can clear up a lot of gray areas, a lot of misconceptions, " Barr said.
"With the growth in the community, excise taxes are inevitable, " he said. "They're a needed component of the building industry, however I think there needs to be a little more equity as far as distribution and equality throughout the size of the project and the location and just a number of different issues that need to be reviewed and evaluated."
School construction and repair issues continue to be on the Board's priority list for Barr, especially with projected reductions in state aid for the 2009 fiscal year.
"Obviously it is connected to the excise tax. At this time with budget woes in the State of Maryland projected for the '09 budget process, we in Washington County are very much concerned as the funds from the state dwindle the increase is going to be passed on to the citizens. So the excise tax is a very key component of that. Without a doubt there are tremendous needs. There are 43 school buildings in Washington County many of which are starting to age and show their wear, and need enhancements and upgrades. We are really pleased with the three new schools that are under contract at this point. It also looks like we are moving forward with financing and projections for the Barbara Ingram School for the arts. Both construction and maintenance efforts are big concerns of the County Commissioners, Barr said.
Working closely with the local delegation to the General Assembly and other offices of State government will also be necessary, Barr said, especially in light of the need for increased funding for infrastructure enhancements and repairs, such as the Maugans Avenue and Edgewood Drive/U.S. 40 intersection projects.
Barr's personal goal is to enhance the relationship between County government and local businesses.
"We will be putting together a review committee made up of business people in the community to create a better understanding of how government thinks and how the business world thinks and operates. The committee would look at best practices, what works and what does not work, and how private business and government can work together more effectively," Barr said.