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June 24, 2011

Winchester Hall New Start

Roy Meachum

Frederick’s Board of County of Commissioners is new; it was sworn in a little over six months ago, on December 1, 2010.


My chief surprise in the election was in how many voters chose a straight GOP ticket. Candidate Blaine Young was the big winner, becoming the commissioners’ president. He led the slate in every way. Blaine’s leadership continues; his is the usual voice heard from Winchester Hall.


As my columns have announced, I’m very fond of the no-longer-as-young man. We first met when he was an emerging teenager sitting on a Winchester Hall bench, waiting for results from the 1985 elections: his father was again re-elected Frederick’s mayor. His flight on WFMD radio came later. My regard has never wavered when he climbed up the political steps, as a Republican. Still I’m hard-pressed to comprehend his announcement that prompted a Wednesday Frederick News-Post front-page story.


As my friends know I’m not strong on financing. I’ve understood budget cuts were supreme to this board since the election campaign last year. But I’m confused about the piece under the headline:


“Commissioners project better revenue outlook.”


Reporter Patti Borda wrote: “The county has up to $26 million available for use in fiscal 2013, and the projected deficit has been reduced from $16.6 million to $3.3 million in 1913.” An added $22.7 million seems like a lot of money to me.


But according to the story Blaine and Budget Director John Kroll are worried about “a growing structural deficit.” – a term I’ve never read before. As I said I’m not strong on financing but read a lot, especially news sources. “Growing structural deficit” remained totally unknown until I saw Ms. Borda’s article. Commissioner David Gray called the phrase “scare tactics.”


Some explanation is needed. Republican Gray was returned to Winchester Hall in spite of wrangling and policy differences with his fellow GOP candidates; all other commission members are new. The re-elected gentleman and I continue to have differences, but I cannot knee-jerk reject anything said out of antipathy for the speaker.


“Projections of the future are constantly updated, he said. His quote falls within my understanding and experience.


“It would be nice if we never had to count on the surplus,” Commissioner Gray continued. “We’ve always counted on carryover surplus.”


That’s what the business of governmental administration is about. Voters judge officials on how they spend money. Adhering strictly to a fixed budget remains impossible, as needs change. The veteran commissioner summed up: “We’re getting increased revenue. We don’t need to act like Chicken Little” – a reference to the fictional critter that ran frantically about shrieking, “The sky is falling. The sky is falling.”


In the last paragraphs, the reporter explains Budget Director Kroll prepared the figures and projections for “meetings between the commissioners and bond rating agencies this week.” That probably justifies to them the mystery: getting a higher rating would save money for taxpayers, including you and me.


Blaine Young has long claimed a “mandate” for his Board of County Commissioners. Accustomed to the way politicians speak, I never publicly challenged the statement.


But it’s always struck me that 2010 elections turned out as it did for a variety of reasons. The county’s Tea Party is exceptionally vigorous. For local causes, the anti-immigrant prejudice is especially biased and based on race; although proponents specify “illegal,” they can very much be doubted. In other words, the anti-Democratic national surge was particularly pointed here. To say the Board of County Commissioners wound up all Republicans is not simply a matter of cost cutting.


I’m very fond of Blaine, as I said, but we disagree strongly on that point. The commissioner president must come out to the public and inform us what’s going on.


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