by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer
Washington County Board of County Commissioners President John Barr delivered the 2008 State of the County Address on February 5th at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Hagerstown, on the theme, "Where we were, where we are, and where we are going."
Barr told the more than 200 persons gathered that Washington County Government has seen great change in the last year, and successfully managed the transition with three new Commissioners and a new Administrator while continuing to move forward and make substantial progress.
Accomplishments in 2007 included changes in Governmental Structure and Services with departments reorganized for maximum efficiency
The Commissioners received recommendations from the Charter Board, which was created to evaluate the types of County Government structures, and forwarded those recommendations to the voters to take to referendum.
Formalizing the process for appointment of individuals to new Boards and Commissions, as well as appointment of individuals to fill vacancies as the need arises was undertaken.
Phase I of the Emergency Medical Services Master Plan saw allocation of $1 million to hire paid Advanced Life Support personnel and purchase necessary response equipment.
A process for review of salary and benefits for our employees was developed to help facilitate recruitment and retention.
Procedures for greater public accessibility to Board meetings included scheduling evening meetings in the municipalities and providing streamed audio of meetings over the Internet. Video transmission of meetings is scheduled in the near future.
The joint hearing process for review and approval of planning and zoning requests to make them more open to public input and scrutiny was realigned.
Assistance to the agricultural industry for needs with economic development marketing and support was provided by funding and initiating the hiring process for an Ag Marketing Specialist.
County Government initiated the evaluation of zoning classifications in the Urban and Town Growth Areas in order to adopt recommendations on appropriate land uses and densities including potential transfer of development rights.
The current Excise Tax Ordinance was evaluated with new fees and structure recommended for legislative action.
The Board evaluated and adopted the 2006 building codes.
Washington County implemented automation of the capital budget process for FY 2009, which includes external agency input and review. This included a refined ranking system related to the CIP budget that categorizes projects by priority and helps define funding necessity.
Barr addressed "Where We Are Now" by outlining current Budget and Financial positions, funding for educational programs, Public Safety initiatives and economic Development issues.
"Where we are going", Barr said, is forward, with updates to the Comprehensive Plan, Urban Growth Area rezoning, a Water and Sewer Plan update, long-range transportation planning, and an update of all specifications and standard details used in construction, capital and developmental processes including the subdivision process.
Public Safety initiatives include the Central Booking facility, a consolidated 911 dispatch center, an Emergency Fire Service Master Plan, completion of the new Emergency Radio Communication Project and development of a long-term plan for a central location for training operations for all emergency services.
Public Works will evaluate our Public Transportation system for the proper location of bus transfer points and shelters throughout the County, and update the Parks and Recreation Master Plan.
The Division of Environmental Management will develop a storm water management program, convene a Local Implementation Team to develop a Tributaries Strategy Plan, develop a comprehensive approach toward recycling, and evaluate processes for the reduction of the solid waste stream into the landfill to extend the lifetime of the site.
In light of the current economic situation, the County Administrator has asked for flat funding of this year's operating budget where practical in order to maintain a conservative approach to management of limited resources. A priority ranking system for our Capital Projects is in place, and the Commissioners continue to see funding for our educational institutions as a top priority.
Barr said that the County intends to move funding for the Economic Development Commission from the current source of Hotel/Motel tax, to the General Fund revenues. This will allow the tax revenue to be used for funding of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and allocation of funds by formula between County and Municipal Governments, marking the first time this revenue source has been directly allocated to the municipalities, and one in what the Board hopes will be a long line of cooperative efforts that benefit the entire County.