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From the Desk of
County Executive Jan Gardner

(3/2014) There is a lot to cheer about in county government. Public participation is growing, employee morale is on the mend, and the transition to charter government is running smoothly.

The newly appointed ethics taskforce has begun its work to restore trust in county government. They are working to strengthen ethics laws to make it clear that county elected officials cannot do business with the county or profit from their position. They are also considering adding a code of conduct for elected officials and restoring penalties or consequences for serious ethics violations that were removed by the prior Board of County Commissioners.

Demonstrating a renewed interest in participation in county government are the 38 applicants who applied to volunteer their time to serve on this taskforce. Similarly, applications are pouring in from citizens interested in serving on the county planning commission. Engaging community talent and experience and empowering the public to participate and make a difference is a great sign of good government.

My leadership teams on jobs, education, community needs, and senior citizens will release their ideas for goals, priorities, and outcomes in these issue areas next week. Public participation in these workgroups has been incredible and a lot of creative and innovative new ideas have been brainstormed. Action plans will be developed to make sure we create jobs for the next generation, ensure world class schools, and plan to meet the needs of a growing senior population.

To protect taxpayers, I have proposed changes to local regulations to add county oversight to the construction of water and sewer infrastructure by developers. The prior Board of County Commissioners allowed the development community to both build the infrastructure and inspect it themselves. I am adding the county back to the inspection process to ensure high quality infrastructure since this becomes part of the county water and sewer system. This ensures a division of responsibilities and that taxpayers will not be stuck with a future bill to repair or prematurely replace this essential infrastructure.

I am spending a couple of days every week traveling to Annapolis to advocate for the needs of our community. The cuts in the Governorís budget to Frederick County are significant. As proposed, the cuts to Frederick County total $5.5 million. Cuts to Frederick County are the third highest among the counties in Maryland. Cuts to public education alone amount to almost $3.5 million. The magnitude of these cuts is one of the reasons why our Board of Education is looking to increase class size and close some of our smaller schools.

Working with our delegation, I am pleased to support a tax fairness bill to avoid duplication of taxation between the county and municipalities. I am also pleased to be meeting monthly with municipal mayors to ensure good communications and address issues before they become a problem.

As usual, there are always a few state bills that leave you scratching your head and wondering what were they thinking? One such bill introduced by both of our state Senators effectively gives our local ability to manage the disposal of our trash to an international zero waste organization. This will virtually eliminate our ability to landfill our trash and could cost us millions of additional dollars for waste disposal. I am hopeful that common sense will prevail once the impacts of this legislation are realized.

It is budget season in Frederick County. I will be holding a public hearing in March to share and gather input on the many requests for county funding. So far, new requests for county funding exceed $40 million.

The county budget is extremely tight due to an inherited $3.4 million deficit created by the prior board of county commissioners. While there is modest growth in property tax revenue and income tax revenue reflecting a slowly recovering economy, these gains are wiped out as a result of the last board spending more money than it had. Multiple reserve funds were tapped including fleet reserves and the workers compensation reserve fund and this one-time money was spent on ongoing expenses. Over $10 million was irresponsibly transferred from reserve funds and there was an assumption in the budget that the county would sell some buildings at a price that has simply not materialized. No one would ever balance their home budget in this manner.

Be assured, I will restore financial responsibility. I will balance the budget, address the deficit, and do so without a tax increase. I have asked county agencies to review all the privatization contracts to identify possible savings. I will be changing priorities to make sure the citizens of Frederick County are provided effective services. I am grateful for the many outstanding county employees who make this high level of service delivery a reality.

The $160 million in taxpayer giveaways approved by the prior Board of County Commissioners to two large residential developments will continue to plague us for the next two decades. For the most part, these bad deals cannot be undone because bonds have already been sold to the benefit of people of who do not even live here and Frederick County taxpayers are stuck with the obligation to pay the bill.

In north county news, I was pleased to join Congressman Chris Van Hollen to present military medals earned in World War II by James Wivell to his daughter Marie Messner and extended family. These medals included a purple heart and the bronze star, the fourth highest medal for bravery in service provided by our military. It is never too late to honor the sacrifice of our war veterans who served our country during times of conflict. Mr. Wivell was a medic and now several of his descendents continue to serve their community through volunteerism in our local ambulance companies.

Think Spring! It has been a bitterly cold winter but warm days are ahead.

Read other articles from Frederick County Government Officials