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March 11, 2008

Commissioners' No Common Sense

Roy Meachum


Sweeping aside the short-neck, no-growth mentality promoted chiefly by newcomers, will someone please explain why Frederick's Board of County Commissioners insisted on penalizing taxpayers again by their erratic logic?


'Tis true as close friends can testify, sometimes I lack any semblance of common sense; there is no sense in my sensibility, frequently. But I am not an official acting with awesome public power. My attempts to serve the general good can fail, with no damage to anyone. My reputation may suffer, but what the hey!


As you read in Monday's News-Post, the commissioners – all of a sudden – discovered, it seems, that the nation is edging toward a recession; some folks say we're already there. When they release their proposed fiscal budget today, Board President Jan Gardner warned taxpayers can expect a projected $8 million deficit.


Obviously the county mother and four fathers were caught by total surprise when Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot announced last week the state faces new red ink amounting to $333 million. Let me emphasize that's another woe on top of the massive financial restructuring that prompted last autumn's General Assembly special session.


Moreover, when Republican Robert Ehrlich handed over the governor's keys to his Democratic successor, at that point, Maryland was said to be in hock for more than a billion. That fact prompts revulsion on my part when GOP politicians make the deficit decidedly partisan.


Both parties, and most of all the electorate, contributed to the local financial mess. John Q. Citizen, as the old saying holds, wants his cake even after he eats it. The budgetary load of services, both personal and general, results from election promises, for the most part.


Republicans oppose virtually all taxation; a safe position when their numbers are half of state Democrats'. Except for rare four-year intervals, represented most recently by Mr. Ehrlich, the GOP can make considerable racket while knowing the onus rests on a chief executive from the other party.


The opposite condition prevails in Winchester Hall; Democrat Gardner holds sway over a board that boasts a GOP majority, which reflects the county's voter registration. In passing a partial moratorium, she and Democrat Kai Hagen were joined by Republican David Gray.


For differing reasons, Charles Jenkins and Lennie Thompson acted according to the basic GOP tenet: keep government out of business and personal lives.


Mr. Jenkins simply followed his GOP faith. Mr. Thompson preached the moratorium did not go far enough: Is he really Republican? According to the number of ballots counted, the former president was the last to slip through the 2006 elections' gate and with considerable Democratic support.


By the way, the passed moratorium is under review by the county attorney's office; a similar Carroll County law was overruled by the courts. Cries the measure was both unconstitutional and seriously anti-business ran up against deaf ears in Winchester Hall.


In my first years – I moved here in 1983 – I considered developers the source of all Frederick evil; I wrote so in my early News-Post columns.


The facts changed my mind, not any person. I counted the depressed tax revenues and flood of skilled workers that left the county every morning heading down the Interstate for jobs they couldn't get here. The paucity of employment contributed significantly to lighter public purses. And then there was lost revenue from construction companies and new home buyers.


My changed perceptivity did not cause me to rush to embrace all proposed development; it led to my understanding the county's various offices, especially the one in charge of minding adequate public facilities, were already in charge. Except for extreme measures, like the moratorium, elected officials were limited by their predecessors' rules and regulations.


Before Winchester Hall's current incumbents, no single board had ever attempted revolution, throwing out all precedents and standing procedures. That's what Mr. Thompson still wants; his colleagues, recognizing legal pitfalls, were willing to accept modifications that favored existing permits, even when still in their preliminary stages.


The niceties amount to less than a hill of beans. Already reeling under the recession's depression and all the noise about the proposed moratorium, some companies simply walked away. Others chose to abide by the wall's handwriting and altered their plans.


One block from where I live downtown, a multi-town house project's lot grows weeds; the workers vanished. Across North Market Street, a handsomely restored and totally refurbished Carmack-Jay's location awaits tenants. Each afternoon when Pushkin takes me for a walk, the classy building stares back with empty windows.


The national financial downturn has already delivered major blows to our economy and employment. What – in Heaven's name – possessed Jan Gardner and her fellow commissioners to think the construction industry warranted further penalization? Do they plan to hand subsidies to workers and their families? Not that I heard.


Someone on the commission should propose the new law rest in the county attorney's care, at least while the recession lasts. Taxpayers can hope a new board takes over before then.


Even in flush times, the public cannot be asked to make up budget differences from their own pockets while politicians fritter away money sources through lame-brain measures like the moratorium.


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