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The Tentacle


May 11, 2006

Tough Decisions and Real Headaches

John W. Ashbury

This election year is getting off to an extremely slow start. Perhaps it is because of all the rancor generated at both the county and state level, but a more likely cause is the length of campaigns - the time required to get your name out there.

Unfortunately, people will still focus on the negatives rather than the positives, because non-incumbents seeking office so far are railing against those already seated in Winchester Hall and/or Annapolis.

For all of us the fact that Tim Brooks, who announced months ago that he was challenging Alex Mooney for the District 3 Senate seat but has yet to file, has been laying low, forsaking his previous tactic of calling members of the media on a daily basis. Mr. Brooks has an uncanny ability to pull allegations from thin air with little or no basis in fact. For example, on his website he attempts to tie Senator Mooney to MS-13, a particularly violent Hispanic street gang.

Hugh Warner has also been relatively quiet in that race although he has sent out a mailer seeking support.

The contest to fill five seats in Winchester Hall is heating up, with two incumbents - Mike Cady and John Lovell - wanting another four years. Challenging them are Realtor Charles Jenkins, and community anti-growth candidates Richard Floyd and Kai Hagan. Another Realtor - Billy Shreve - is contemplating a run at Winchester Hall.

If any combination of those men is the five elected, this county is in deep trouble for another four years. Mr. Cady and Mr. Lovell have angered large segments of the public with their seeming inability to compromise their positions for the good of the public.

Last year when the county has a $26 million surplus, Mr. Lovell refused to vote to drop the property tax rate, thereby drawing the ire of seniors and others on fixed incomes. While Mr. Cady wanted initially to lower the tax rate, when he saw it was a futile effort, he jumped in with both feet and voted to spend every penny of the excess money.

Fellow incumbents Jan Gardner and John "Lennie" Thompson have yet to announce their election intentions. Speculation is mixed for both. Ms. Gardner has fluctuated so frequently on this issue that no one, not even Ms. Gardner, is sure what her plans are.

As usual Mr. Thompson is being reticent about his plans. During the next four years he will have two children in college at the same time, and for any parent that is a formidable task - especially for someone making $45,000 a year, the new salary for commissioners starting in December.

Detractors will say that he will run because he can't make it as a lawyer. Supporters will cheer him, hoping he'll be re-elected because of his stance against developers. Reality tells us that during his eight years in office his advocacy against growth in Frederick County has had very little effect - other than to get his name in the newspapers and to increase the price of housing in the county.

Kai Hagan and Richard Floyd, who join anyone in rants against development, could provide a majority - along with either Ms. Gardner or Mr. Thompson, or both - on the next board in Winchester Hall. Both carry baggage which will not sit well perhaps with enough voters to carry them into office.

There is still a large segment of the Frederick County electorate which understands that without some growth our economy will become stagnant and eventually die. Reality is often hard to swallow for those advocating that something be abolished.

Charles Jenkins, who finished sixth in the general election four years ago, stubbed his toe coming out of the gate when he criticized the two incumbents seeking re-election for voting to lower the property tax rate to the constant yield of $.936 per hundred dollars of assessed value.

In combination with the commissisoners' decision last year to reduce the maximum increase in assessed value for property tax purposes on owner occupied dwellings to five percent from the traditional (and maximum under state law) of 10 percent, residents likely will see a great benefit on their tax bills.

Remember that the constant yield rate, as set by the state, will generate the same amount of money from property taxes as did the $1 rate last year. Can you imagine just how low the constant yield would have been if the commissioners had kept the ceiling on owner-occupied homes at 10 percent?

Billy Shreve, another Realtor, is likely to file as well. He seems reluctant to take a strong position on the tax cut, saying that solutions to critical problems may demand a tax increase, a position not likely to sit well with senior citizens already struggling to stay in the county they have supported all their lives.

It is amazing that politicians - and wannabe politicians - never talk about cutting anything. Our county government is overburdened by commissioners micro-managing every detail. They seem to have little confidence in the staff they hired.

And over at Frederick County Public Schools, the situation is even worse. There are far too many administrators on the staff, hidden in every nook and cranny. Harford County has more students than does Frederick County and yet has approximately 30 fewer administrators. That should tell us that something's amiss.

And Jean Smith, who announced earlier this week that she is seeking re-election, has been there for 12 years. That's enough! She is part of the problem at FCPS. She is among the leaders in the charge to build a new administration building on a prime lot in downtown Frederick and want to pay for it from "operating" funds. Aren't those monies supposed to go to the direct benefit of the students, and not the administration?

Parents, and all those others who continue to complain about Linganore High and its condition and schedule for replacement/renovation, should be asking the Board of Education and the FCPS administrators just why they think it is more important to build a Taj Mahal for themselves while leaving the students high and dry for another five years.

Maybe it would be a good thing to throw all the rascals out on both sides of Church Street this year. But, then again, we should be careful what we wish for. The cure to the current situation could be worse that what we have already.



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