County Comment: County Association Meeting Benefits Citizens
County Association Meeting Benefits Citizens
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer
The annual Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) summer meeting gave Commissioners and County staff opportunities for networking with state officials and counterparts from other Counties. This year's meeting was especially fruitful for Washington County, Commissioner Jim Kercheval said.
The networking availabilities are a critical part of the lobbying duties of elected officials.
Lobbying efforts by a coalition of elected officials and staff from the State, County and City of Hagerstown, the Hagerstown/Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Hagerstown Committee recently led to changes in prisoner-release procedures. Kercheval got a chance to meet with Maryland Secretary of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary Gary Maynard at MACo to help reinforce the need for that change.
As a result of long-term lobbying by that coalition of groups, prisoners released from the state's correctional facilities located on Route 65 will no longer routinely be taken to the bus station near I-70 and released.
While Kercheval admits his conversation with Maynard had very little to do with that decision, another interaction with state agencies has resulted in meetings being planned in Washington County to deal with water and serer regulations.
As the County goes through the process of revising urban zoning and dealing with densities in the Urban Growth Areas for the future, problems have surfaced at the state level.
"Policies and suggestions are in place by the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) where they want certain densities in areas that have water and sewer. Higher densities to take advantage of infrastructure and not to use up a lot of excess land," Kercheval said.
"We also have environmental mandates that have limited our sewer capacity for our long-term planning period, and the concern that we have is how to follow some of the directives of the MDP and still follow policies of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) in regards to these environmental issues and sewer capacity," he said.
An open forum with Secretaries Shari Wilson and Richard Hall on how these two departments will work together allowed the County to convey its particular situation to the two officials.
"Secretary Hall has already set up a meeting in Washington County. He heard us down there," Kercheval said.
The Commissioner said Hall was complimentary of Washington County's looking ahead to solving future problems, and offered to set up a meeting in the County to work through some of the concerns affecting future growth issues.
"To me that was worth the whole trip, getting the Secretary to come up here and help us at this critical period of planning for the County," Kercheval said.
Other MACo sessions involved public safety, growth and infrastructure issues. Washington County is able to learn from efforts of other counties on those issues, he said.
As the County Commissioners develop goals for this term, Kercheval said that transportation needs top his list. Roads and highways must be planned on a long-term basis, 20 or 30 years in the future. As the County population grows, the number of vehicles on County roads increases. How to move citizens around the County in a safe and orderly way will be a top priority for this Board, he said.