Pictured: John Frank, Director Emergency Management Services, Commissioners Paul Edwards, Larry Tichnell, and Jim Hinebaugh, Fred McMullen, Warning Coordination of the National Weather Service forecast office in Pittsburgh
The Garrett County Commissioners kicked off their December 4 meeting as recipients of a new StormReady® certification from the state. The certification acknowledges the establishment of a proactive approach for citizen notification and preparedness and the ability to mobilize county and state partners and staff in the event of severe weather. Weather conditions will also be monitored using video surveillance at two locations since National Weather Service office radar does not always detect isolated storm situations unique to Garrett County.
Senator George Edwards and Delegate Wendell Beitzel were on-hand during the designated annual meeting to hear legislative requests from the three Commissioners. Board chair, Paul Edwards reminded attendees that a public meeting to hear specific legislative requests would be held at Garrett College on Thursday, December 7 at 6:00PM in the GIEC building.
Bloomington Water System
A top priority from the commissioners directed at Garrett County's state legislators was a request for a $164,000 bond for the Bloomington water storage tank replacement. Commissioner Edwards described the bond as the final piece of financing for that project. "Obviously it's much needed and upgrades that facility," said the Commissioner.
The county will replace two existing tanks with one 150K gallon tank has been estimated to cost $547,365. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant funding paid for some of the upgrades, leaving the balance requested in the form of a bond by the Commissioners. Commissioner Jim Hinebaugh explained that a bond would be the best course of funding to prevent increased utility costs for Bloomington water customers.
To avoid replacing the deteriorated water tanks, an earlier proposal looked at tying into Westernport's water system to provide service but associated fees could have resulted in drastic water bill increases for customers and a hardship for what is considered an already "distressed area."
Matching State Level for Procurements
A second request by the Commissioners asked to amend the code to award bids on contracts. Currently the Commissioners my not enter into a contract if it exceeds $15,000 without advertising in one or more newspapers in the county. They requested an increase in the minimum amount to match the state level which is set at $25,000. Aligning the county's procurement with the state level was described as a cost-saving measure.
State Highway User Funds
A request for continued support for the State Highway User Fund was also on the wish-list of the Commissioners. These funds used to be a vital part of the county budget and were slashed by 90% in all Maryland counties in 2009. The state is looking at phasing the fund back in over time to regenerate lost revenue. The Commissioners would like to see these funds continue to grow over time.
State Lakes Protection Fund
The State Lakes Protection Fund has been established but no funding has yet been allocated. If fully funded, 3 million per year could be allocated to manage state lakes such as Deep Creek Lake. The funds could include dredging of coves clogged with invasive species or mitigate watershed issues such as sediment erosion or water contamination. The Commissioners requested legislative support to get money into the fund.
As a related issue, Commissioner Edwards pointed out that the Youghiogheny River Watershed is not eligible to receive funds from the Chesapeake & Coastal Bay Trust fund. "It's the primary funding source that is paid into by Marylanders," said Commissioner Edwards. "I think there's an equity question there for the powers that be for how we protect our waterways, or how you justify taking money from us but it's something we can't take advantage of." he continued. "I don't know all the ins and outs of that but it just came to our attention." A request was made of the state delegation to look into what's going on.
Garrett County Humane Society representatives asked legislators to assist them with an issue regarding their inability to deal with animal neglect and abuse in the county any longer. The volunteer organization logged roughly 11,000 miles and 380 calls in 2017 with the number of calls increasing each year. A request was made for the county to assume the responsibility as well as asking for clarification regarding what the state of Maryland requires on this issue.
Senator Edwards explained that if the Humane Society were to fold, the duty would fall back to the county. "We're asking you [County Commissioners] to look at this and see if you can come up with something to help them out," asked Sen. Edwards?
Humane Society volunteers have filled a void that, in their opinion, should be managed by paid county employees. A need has been established within the county that may require answering calls, investigating reports, educating pet owners, seizing animals, public education, and in worst cases, prosecuting offenders and filing case reports. Currently, there are no other agencies that have offered to assume these roles.
"I think the way the law is currently written, we [the county] don't have the authority to do that," said County Administrator, Kevin Null. "If they go out of business today, we couldn't accept that responsibility."
In the rest of the state, the task would be folded into a county entity like the Garrett County Animal Shelter but in this case, volunteers are answering and enforcing Maryland and County abuse and neglect calls. The Humane Society has been repeating their request of the county since 2003 but the responsibility of dealing with animals in need or distress continues to remain with the volunteer organization.
"They're asking us to give you that authority and we're saying take a look at this. We're obviously not going to put in legislation if you don't want to agree to it." Sen. Edwards replied. "We're asking you [the County] to take a serious look at it to see if there's something that can be worked out."
The Commissioners agreed to review the issue to see what can be done.