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April 8, 2003

Wailing and Whining Wonít Solve Countyís Problems

John W. Ashbury

Commissioner Jan Gardner is trying - very trying. She makes an effort to represent those who elected her. BUT she, all too often, forgets that more than 80 percent of the people who live in this county did not vote for her. They deserve her representation as well.

The same is true of Commissioner John L. "Lennie" Thompson, but thatís the subject of another column.

Ms. Gardner, along with Mr. Thompson and the retired David Gray, held sway in Winchester Hall for four years. They all gloated over their success in putting almost a complete halt to any housing, industrial or commercial growth. They all forgot the old adage about "grow or die."

Commissioners Gardner and Gray, with the help of Commissioner Terre R. Rhoderick, pushed through an 11 percent property tax increase and a 16 percent increase in the countyís piggy-back income tax rate. And still they complained that it wasnít enough. So up went impact fees.

Because of their tunnel vision, their inability to see or understand the unintended consequences of their actions, this county is now faced with a dire fiscal situation. Although they are not wholly responsible for the problem, much of the blame can be laid at their feet. Now with a majority of the Board of County Commissioners in favor of a steady, but more managed, growth policy, Mr. Thompson and Ms. Gardner are crying foul.

Recently the commissioners, on several 3-2 votes, approved the reclassification of three water/sewer projects from W-5/S-5 to W-3/S-3. This means that the projects are likely to go forward within the next three years instead of the previous 5-year program.

Both of these commissioners were so upset that two days after the votes they attempted to bring it back. Mr. Thompson wrote a dissenting opinion which he wants to insert into the official record of the cases. Ms. Gardner agreed with Mr. Thompson.

But Mr. Thompson was the one who announced to the world that the official record of those cases was closed and that further letters or voices either in support or in opposition would NOT be made part of the record.

Now we see in both The Frederick News Post and in The Gazette Newspapers of Frederick County that Ms. Gardner continues to whine over her loss. She also stated her agreement with parents and other citizens who spoke to the commissioners a week ago about the capital budget.

Some of those speakers at the commissionersí meeting even asked for taxes to be raised so their "children" could be educated in better physical plants, or served in more modern library facilities.

Many of the residents of Frederick County were educated at Elm Street School, which was built in 1912, and at Frederick High School, which was constructed in 1939. And they were students there long before any renovations, improvements of additions were made.

Walkersville High School was built in the 1950s. It was replaced in 1976 with a new building, but the old building was still used as a middle school. Even the oldest school building still in use as a school in the county was used as part of the middle and elementary schools until just a year or two ago. Did you hear any complaints about a "negative learning environment?"

It is true that changes in the educational process have increased the need for additional space. But if reduced class size is truly a benefit to the education our children receive, why are their still students who donít make the honor roll. I say this facetiously. (Sixty-five percent of students in middle and high school in this county are on the honor roll.)

Ms. Gardnerís complaints in her Letter To The Editor are specious. All through the election campaign last year she bragged about how much money "she" brought back to Frederick County from Annapolis for school construction. While it is true we got great gobs from the Glendening Administration, it is also true that so did everybody else.

Then Governor Parris Glendening had more money to distribute for school construction that any governor in history. And, if calculated by almost any standards, Frederick County still didnít get its fair share.

Now she says she is going to lobby for more money for these projects. Good for her. But after her wailing and whining about who won the governorís race in November, do you really think she will be successful?

We do have schools that are "above" capacity. But only a couple are above the 110 percent the state says is necessary before consideration is given to providing relief. Donít forget that we lost 17 percent of our school capacity with stroke of Glendeningís pen in 1995, which reduced the capacity of a classroom from 30 students to 25 students. The governor should have put more money into school construction than he did over the last seven years of his term just because of this single action.

In her letter Ms. Gardner said the state agreed to match salary increases for teachers and that those "matches" are now being phased out.

WRONG. What the state did was tell the 24 jurisdictions that if they gave teachers a 4-percent raise in each of two years, the state would provide an additional 1 percent in each of those two years. Hardly a match by the reckoning here.

She is correct that both the state and federal government are putting additional burdens on local governments by instituting new mandates without providing any funding. It isnít clear exactly what would happen if local officials, both county and Board of Education, refused to comply with the mandates.

In the wake of 9/11, we certainly need to be better prepared in case of emergencies. But if you read Ms. Gardnerís letter you would think that there is nothing we can do without spending more money. Thatís hogwash, and she knows it.

Ms. Gardner is trying scare tactics on a gullible and uninformed public. It has worked for her in the past and she is trying it again.

We can only hope that her fellow commissioners donít fall for her "tax and spend" hard line. I guess we can expect a letter from Commissioner Thompson to appear now to bolster Ms. Gardnerís arguments. At least his hard line extends to a refusal to raise property taxes.

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