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From the Desk of
County Executive Jan Gardner

(12/2014) County Celebrates a Year of People and Prosperity

On December 1, we celebrate one year of charter government in Frederick County. And what a year it has been! We have ushered in a new era of county government focused on people and prosperity.

Job #1 was to restore trust in government. Citizens have a right to know what their government is doing and to be assured that decisions are being made in the best interest of the public good. To accomplish trust in government, I pledged to advance stronger ethics laws and to ensure open and transparent government.

I appointed an Ethics Task Force, comprised of 15 citizens with various backgrounds and expertise to recommend ways to strengthen our ethics laws. These recommendations were drafted into legislation that the County Council took to public hearing. The Council is currently considering the proposed changes.

I believe that nothing is more important than making sure people can participate in government and make a difference. Under Charter government, public participation has grown exponentially with many citizens getting involved and volunteering to serve on leadership teams and steering committees focused on solid waste disposal, senior initiatives, jobs, and land use planning to ensure a Livable Frederick.

I have also hosted numerous town hall meetings covering topics such as school construction, affordable housing, and the county budget. I hold weekly press briefings to keep people informed and hold "Talk of the Town" meetings around the county where citizens can come and talk to me about any topic. And, I attend many community events to keep in touch with people where they are.

The tone of county government has changed. The County is headed in the right direction without all the acrimony and contention seen in the past. We are all working together!

During the campaign, I pledged not only to engage citizens but to treat county employees with dignity and respect. These employees – your friends and neighbors – dedicate themselves to providing essential services to Frederick County residents whether it is answering calls for help at 9-1-1, clearing our roads of snow, taking care of our community’s trash, or driving a TransIt bus.

In our first few months in office, Council President Bud Otis and I visited employees in every area of county government to express appreciation for their good work and dedication to serving the public. I made sure that all employees were treated equally and fairly in terms of pay and benefits and advanced changes to the personnel rules to restore tuition assistance and floating holidays. And we restored the annual employee picnic. All successful businesses value their employees – the people who do the work!

Frederick County has a burgeoning senior population! I appointed a Seniors First! team to determine what priorities should be advanced to serve our seniors. A top priority was to expand the Meals on Wheels program so no senior would go hungry. Routes have been added in Middletown, Lewistown, and New Market. A new transportation option actually begins this week allowing TransIt Plus members (seniors and people with disabilities) to use the Taxi Access Program to get rides at reduced rates. The taxi access program will provide services on evenings and weekends when other transportation options are not available. This program is countywide – in both rural and urban areas. We have added staff to help evaluate and assist seniors in their home and to connect seniors to the services they need.

One of the most significant accomplishments in the past year is the County retaining ownership of Citizens Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and the Montevue Home. Once again, Frederick County will proudly take care of our own, keep our promise to our seniors, and honor the original deed on the land. In addition, I have protected taxpayers from an incredibly bad financial deal to sell these facilities at a huge cost to taxpayers. Few people realize that to sell these assets required the county to bring millions of dollars to the table since the proceeds would not pay the mortgage on the building. The prior commissioners also took $2.8 million from a Citizens and Montevue fund and spent it elsewhere.

Another priority was to create jobs and ensure a vibrant economy. Under my administration, Frederick County means business! We know that a job is fundamental to a high quality of life. I immediately decided to have Economic Development report directly to the County Executive and created a Business and Industry Cabinet to stay connected to what’s happening in business. To create jobs, I have successfully introduced a business and commercial tax credit for large manufacturers, supported a 300 employee job expansion at AstraZeneca, and advanced legislation through our state delegation to improve our small business tax credit. We have coordinated marketing with our municipal Main Street Programs, initiated a minority business outreach effort, introduced a small business loan guarantee program with local banks, and hired an Agricultural Economic Development Specialist to support our traditional agriculture industry. A new IT tech incubator is also in the works to complement our biotech incubator that has successfully supported the creation of over 300 jobs.

My passion has always been public education and I’ve been a relentless advocate for our community’s children. In my first budget, passed by the county council, we invested in our future by including $4.2 million above the minimum level required by law. This is the first increase above minimum in 5 years. We broke ground on a long awaited new Frederick High School. And just last month we brought the state’s top expert on school construction to the county for a roundtable discussion.

My focus is on people and making sure prosperity includes everyone. To that end, we re-established and strengthened our partnerships with our nonprofit human service agencies. Later this month, I’ll be announcing awards through our new Community Partnership Grants. By assisting the county’s human service nonprofits, we can leverage our investments, avoid duplication of effort, and provide more effective services to the people who need them. Another great partnership is the sale to Interfaith Housing Alliance of a vacant county-owned building which will be transformed to affordable workforce rental apartments, adding people and activity to a neighborhood near downtown Frederick.

We know Frederick County will continue to grow but it should grow well and protect those things we love about Frederick County – our agricultural heritage and our historic and cultural assets. I pledged to manage that growth responsibly. That’s why I created a steering committee to guide the comprehensive plan update called Livable Frederick. This process is a new and dynamic approach to long-range planning. We will have to plan differently to accommodate seniors and to keep our young people living in Frederick County. This is essential to our long term prosperity.

Join us in celebrating our one year anniversary of People and Prosperity by viewing our video at this link: Working together, our best days are ahead!

Read other articles from Frederick County Government Officials