State warns 1 cent storm water fee is "insufficient"

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/03/2013
Frederick County's 1 cent storm water fee could end up costing tens of thousands of dollars in fines, state environmental officials recently warned. A Maryland Department of the Environment review determined the county's fee would be "insufficient" to pay for the water cleanup efforts required by a state-enforced permit. The fee of 1 cent per eligible property is estimated to raise $487 annually for county water programs. "We believe that this level of funding will be insufficient to support the people, programs and projects that will be necessary for the county to meet its obligations under the Watershed Implementation Plan and the new MS4 permit that we expect to issue to your county next month," stated an Oct. 25 letter written by Robert Summers, the state's environmental secretary. The county could get slapped with fines of up to $32,500 per day for each violation of its storm water permit, which is in the process of being renewed, the letter continued.

County decides to relax stream buffer requirements

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/01/2013
The legally required swath of trees and shrubbery separating Frederick County's homes from its streams is becoming 25 feet slimmer. Commissioners voted Thursday to relax the county's stream buffer ordinance, a "modest change" that they said would have little effect on the county's waterways. Allowing homes closer to county streams opens up a bit more land to developers, giving them more flexibility in site design as they deal with state environmental requirements, county staff said. "Really, we see this as a jibing of county standards to harmonize with the state standards," said Dusty Rood, president of the Frederick County Land Use Council. However, local residents, environmental groups and former County Commissioner Kai Hagen all said they believed decreasing the required stream buffer size would endanger area water quality. Hagen said county's current leaders have shown a pattern of elevating developer interests above other considerations. "They said, 'Jump,' and you jumped," Hagen told the board of commissioners.

County responds to legal challenge of Citizens, Montevue sale

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
11/19/2013
A roughly 200-year-old deed doesn't present an obstacle in Frederick County's move to privatize its nursing home and assisted living centers, attorneys for the county argue. In response to a legal complaint filed by sale opponents, the county's attorneys assert that governments must have the flexibility to dispose of property if they feel it is the best interests of citizens. Operations at Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living have cost taxpayers more than $53 million since 2000, and county officials have the authority to decide when enough is enough, attorneys wrote in legal filings. Those who want the county to keep Citizens and Montevue have challenged the sale with a pair of cases filed in Frederick County Circuit Court. Earlier this month, attorneys for the county submitted a defense to the larger of the two cases. The filing zeroed in on debate surrounding a deed drawn up in 1828 when Elias Brunner sold 88 acres to the county "for the Benefit of the Poor of said County, and to and for no other use, intent or purpose whatsoever." The plaintiffs have argued this statement clashes with the county's plan to hand over the facilities to a for-profit company. Montevue provides reduced-cost, assisted living care to residents who cannot afford to pay full price.

Open meetings complaints filed against Frederick County commissioners

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
09/25/213
At least two complaints of an Open Meetings Act violation have been lodged against the Frederick County commissioners for their closed-session vote on a $200,000 grant repayment. The submissions to the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board claim that the decisions should have happened in the open because they relate to public business. Middletown resident Sonja Sperlich wrote one of the complaints, and The Frederick News-Post submitted the other. County commissioners voted Sept. 5 to send the $200,000 check with a letter to the state in order to facilitate the sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. Sperlich’s letter references several portions of state law to bolster her argument that commissioners breached the Open Meetings Act. The law’s intent is to ensure that “except in special and appropriate circumstances, public business be performed in an open and public manner and citizens be allowed to observe the performance, deliberations and decisions of the BOCC,” Sperlich, former chairwoman of the Citizens board of trustees, wrote in her complaint.

Commissioners look to shed excess building space

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
09/03/2013
Frederick County officials have laid out a strategy to get rid of extra building space and free up more room in the budget. Relocating county staff members and programs will allow officials to sell several properties, cancel a $2.5 million maintenance project and end two leases, officials said. A task force has been working since last year to sketch out the five-year building consolidation plan approved Thursday by county commissioners. "I'm very happy to see it," Commissioner Paul Smith said of the plan. "It will help us be more efficient and reduce the taxpayer burden a little bit." With the plan, the county would put on the market a building at 520 N. Market St., now the headquarters of the citizens services division. The division would eventually move to 340 Montevue Lane, according to the plan.

City, county officials back regional transportation plan

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
07/31/2013
Residents should speak up for easier commutes and road and bridge repairs, according to Frederick city and county leaders. At a joint news conference Tuesday, Frederick County Commissioner Paul Smith and city Alderwoman Carol Krimm praised a drafted transportation priorities plan that is under development by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Almost all major transportation projects need the council's blessing, so it's important to make sure the group's long-range plans reflect Frederick's needs, said Smith and Krimm. The Frederick area has significant infrastructure issues, the officials said. "We are actually behind the curve," Smith said.

U.S. 15-Monocacy interchange gets regional stamp of approval

Frederick News Post
Kelsi Loos
07/25/2013
It could soon get easier to travel across town in Frederick now that a regional transportation planning board has given its blessing to the long-awaited U.S. 15 and Monocacy Boulevard interchange. The Washington Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board voted last week to include the project in its transportation improvement program. Construction is set to be completed in 2016. The state agreed in May to use funds raised from the gas tax increase to foot the $84.5 million bill for construction, but the plan still had to be approved by appropriate regional authorities — in this case, the council of governments.

Voting history shows power of Young’s bloc

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
07/21/2013
Commissioners President Blaine Young says there's no point in denying the existence of a Frederick County voting bloc led by him. "I'm not going to run from the obvious," he says. For many, the four-commissioner alliance becomes particularly obvious during hot-button decisions, such as when the county decided to give up control of the local Head Start program. When officials approved an overhaul of fire and rescue funding. And when they sealed the sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. Commissioner David Gray has been a voice of dissent from his seat on the panel's right flank, but in each of these decisions, he has been alone. From their first motion more than two-and-a-half years ago to the June 25 hearing on the future of Citizens and Montevue, the commissioners have cast 1,273 votes. The bulk of those, more than two-thirds, were unanimous decisions, many about routine issues. But Gray has been in the minority for almost 78 percent of the split votes and has acted as the sole dissenter in 269 of the decisions.

Voting history shows power of Young's bloc

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
07/21/2013
Commissioners President Blaine Young says there's no point in denying the existence of a Frederick County voting bloc led by him. "I'm not going to run from the obvious," he says. For many, the four-commissioner alliance becomes particularly obvious during hot-button decisions, such as when the county decided to give up control of the local Head Start program. When officials approved an overhaul of fire and rescue funding. And when they sealed the sale of Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. Commissioner David Gray has been a voice of dissent from his seat on the panel's right flank, but in each of these decisions, he has been alone. From their first motion more than two-and-a-half years ago to the June 25 hearing on the future of Citizens and Montevue, the commissioners have cast 1,273 votes. The bulk of those, more than two-thirds, were unanimous decisions, many about routine issues. But Gray has been in the minority for almost 78 percent of the split votes and has acted as the sole dissenter in 269 of the decisions.

Supports the boycotts

Frederick News Post
Bob Lewis
07/17/2013
In a recent editorial, “Calls for local boycotts ill-advised,” attempts to apply economic pressure to the Frederick County Commissioners and their supporters are criticized. The editorial implies that voters should not be upset because these commissioners were “candid about their political philosophy and how they planned to proceed if elected.” They were not candid about how they would proceed. Had they been open about their plans to privatize the county workforce, sell Montevue, cut county support to Head Start and attempt to loosen ethics rules, they would have never been elected. The editorial states that some boycotts would be reasonable such as those conducted during the civil rights campaigns in the 1960s — “When the political establishment and powers that be are resolutely unresponsive to reasonable change, a boycott may be justified and necessary.” I believe that is exactly the situation we face in Frederick County. On issue after issue citizens have organized, demonstrated, and given solid, reasoned presentations, and they have been ignored, disrespected and abused by this board.

Frederick County commissioners done with large-scale privatization, Young says

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
07/09/2013
The era of wholesale privatization in county government is coming to a close, and the surviving three quarters of the county workforce can breathe a sigh of relief, according to Commissioners President Blaine Young. Young sent a letter to Frederick County employees Monday thanking them for their understanding during the roughly two years that commissioners have looked at shrinking and streamlining government. The recent decision to sell Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living puts the county on course to lose 181 more workers, with facility staff expected to become employees of the buyer, Aurora Health Management. However, the sale of Citizens and Montevue represents the last major privatization effort the current Board of County Commissioners aims to undertake, Young wrote in the letter.

Smith’s simplistic commentary

Frederick News Post
Jack Lynch
07/08/2013
Recent commentary by Frederick County Commissioner Paul Smith exposes the simplistic political logic of the current Board of County Commissioners and of the statewide Chesapeake Coalition. At its base, it rejects firm science and portrays the problem as an out-of-state boogeyman to deflect attention from our real-life issues and responsibility for cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. The citizens of Frederick County, and of Maryland, deserve better from our local elected leaders. As one dedicated over many years towards the careful practice of environmental stewardship and water quality while respecting history and economics and sustainability, I demand better deliberation, thought and action in these responsibilities from us all.

Smith's simplistic commentary

Frederick News Post
Jack Lynch
07/08/2013
Recent commentary by Frederick County Commissioner Paul Smith exposes the simplistic political logic of the current Board of County Commissioners and of the statewide Chesapeake Coalition. At its base, it rejects firm science and portrays the problem as an out-of-state boogeyman to deflect attention from our real-life issues and responsibility for cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. The citizens of Frederick County, and of Maryland, deserve better from our local elected leaders. As one dedicated over many years towards the careful practice of environmental stewardship and water quality while respecting history and economics and sustainability, I demand better deliberation, thought and action in these responsibilities from us all.

Blaine and Co. bad for Frederick County

Frederick News Post
George Wenschhof
07/07/2013
The 4-1 vote recently to sell the Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Care facilities and disband their board of trustees, illustrates the latest example of Frederick County government behaving badly. Immediately following the 2010 election, new board of county commissioners’ president Blaine Young (R) proclaimed Frederick County “Open for Business.” Joining Young as newly elected Republicans on the five member board were Kirby Delauter, Billy Shreve and Paul Smith, who I quickly dubbed with the moniker; “Blaine and Co.,” the moniker resulting from their like ideology and the carte blanche votes Delauter, Shreve and Smith gave to Young on anything Young would propose. Fueled by “tea party” fervor, prevalent across the nation, that promoted less government and less spending, Blaine and Co. wasted no time in promoting these ideals, a disturbing pattern of governing that clearly illustrates how following ideology often trumps reasonable representation. The resulting action from Blaine and Co. was felt immediately after their election, when they moved to eliminate $2 million in county funding for Head Start, a proven and effective federal program that helps children in need during the critical early years of development. What has followed over the next 2 1/2 years has been a continued move to follow an irresponsible privatization path in governing.

Citizens/Montevue fate sealed before hearing

Frederick News Post
06/30/2013
To no one’s surprise the Frederick County Commissioners wasted little time in selling Citizen Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living Facility following a five-hour public hearing Tuesday evening. It’s now clear the public hearing was nothing more than a “go-through-the-motions” sham and validated claims by opponents that the meeting was being held because of a legal requirement and not because there was any chance the commissioners were interested, much less willing, to change their minds. A standing-room only crowd of more than 400 people crammed into the Jack B. Kussmaul Theater at Frederick Community College in a last-ditch attempt to stop the commissioners sale of the government-owned nursing home and assisted living center that have served needy local residents for about 140 years. But four of the county commissioners, lead by President Blaine Young, had already made up their minds.

Estimates in dispute for sale of Citizens, Montevue

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
06/25/2013
Dollars and cents are a central part of the debate over whether to sell the county-owned nursing and assisted living centers. However, those involved in the argument have yet to agree on exactly what those numbers are. Frederick County’s financial analysis predicts that taxpayers would see a net benefit of more than $12.3 million over the next four years if officials privatize Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. Opponents of privatization have challenged this summary, saying the figures are skewed to make a $30 million sale to Aurora Health Management look more attractive. Sale opponents also say the facilities could turn a profit if properly managed, an effort to debunk the notion that the centers are bound to keep losing money if they remain under county ownership. These optimistic projections have been challenged by county staff, who say the numbers are flawed because they are based on only one month of data.

When Ideology Trumps Reasonable Representation, Bad Things Happen….

Frederick Politics
George Wenschhof
06/23/2013
The proposed sale of the Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Care facilities, illustrates the latest example of Frederick County government behaving badly. Immediately following the 2010 election, new board of county commissioners’ president Blaine Young (R) proclaimed Frederick County “Open for Business”. Joining Young as newly elected Republicans on the five member board were Kirby Delauter, Billy Shreve and Paul Smith, who I quickly dubbed with the moniker; “Blaine and Company”. The moniker resulting from their like ideology and the carte blanche votes Delauter, Shreve and Smith gave to Young on anything Young would propose. Fueled by the “tea party” fervor, prevalent across the nation, that promoted less government and less spending, Blaine and Company wasted no time in promoting these ideals, a disturbing pattern of governing that clearly illustrates how following ideology often trumps reasonable representation.

Grand Canyon makes erosion look good, Shreve says

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
06/21/2013
Consider erosion, says Commissioner Billy Shreve. Is it a thing to be feared? Battled? Buffered against? Or enjoyed? During Thursday’s board meeting, Frederick County leaders discussed Chesapeake Bay health and a recent county study of local streams. Though the report found erosion was an issue in many county waterways, Shreve said he’s not sure how problematic the process is. “We have this report in Frederick County. It talks about the restoration of streams, and how we can’t allow streambeds to erode, and all that stuff. Yet, we celebrate one of the greatest erosions in the history of mankind, and it’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world: the Grand Canyon,” he said. “It’s the biggest, worst case of erosion ever. So ... I don’t know which way to go on that.” Commissioner Paul Smith followed Shreve’s logic to provide a vision of the Eastern Shore millions of years in the future. “The bay has a future as a grand canyon?” Smith said, laughing

County allocates $25,000 to challenge cleanup plan

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
06/14/2013
Frederick County will contribute another $25,000 to a partnership that is challenging a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The money comes from the county's fiscal 2013 budget and will help pay for the Clean Chesapeake Coalition's legal counsel and public outreach about the expenses of following a state-prescribed pollution diet.

County approves transportation priorities

Frederick News Post
Kelsi Loos
05/24/2013
The county could build alternate routes around Frederick to ease congestion on I-270, I-70 and other key roads. Eventually. The Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to approve the State Highway Needs Inventory, a first step in securing state funds for road projects. The inventory specifies no time frame for completion, however, and some projects have languished on the list for years awaiting state funding. “Many of the projects have literally been on there for decades,” said Jim Gugel, planning manager for the Community Development Division.