Editor’s note: As we usher out 2012 and welcome 2013, The Herald-Mail has prepared a package of year-end stories that provide short recaps of some of the top stories of the year past.
These stories will be published each day through New Year’s Day.
Jan. 31-Present — Washington County’s plan for boosting recycling in 2012 was to encourage it rather than mandate it.
The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 on Jan. 31 to promote private curbside recycling.
County officials rejected making recycling a mandatory, government-run service and having taxpayers fund it.
The county helped Allied Waste market its curbside recycling collection.
The service was introduced as “opt-out” — residents were automatically enrolled and billed $5 per month unless they contacted the hauler to cancel.
County officials received complaints about that arrangement, but said it was a good way to roll out a private recycling program and make it viable.
Other trash haulers followed Allied Waste into the local market, making private recycling service available to most of Washington County.
The county also eliminated unattended public recycling bins in various spots, which, officials said, were costing money and not generating revenue to offset the associated expenses.
County residents still can recycle at bins at the landfill and transfer stations after buying a permit.
In November, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said changes in private curbside recycling, public bins, and permits have turned around the solid waste program’s finances.
Extrapolating from four months of data, Murray said the county is taking in about $67,000 per year in permit fees connected to recycling.
The county is paying about $57,000 to have recyclables removed from its remaining bins.
Previously, the county spent about $450,000 per year to maintain several public recycling bins, including stand-alone bins in Funkstown, Maugansville and other places.
Murray said the number of customers recycling through private service in the county or public pickup in the municipalities, as well as those using public bins by permit, was up nearly 19 percent from July 1 through late November.
Skeptics suggested that more people might be throwing recyclable items in the trash because of the changes.
— Andrew Schotz
Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co.
July 31-Present — Washington County moved into 2013 with officials still trying to determine what should be done about the suspended Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co.
The Washington County Board of Commissioners had given a task force 90 days to come up with recommendations for the department, but that deadline has passed and the task force said at its last meeting that they would meet again Jan. 7.
One reason the process has been drawn out is because task force members had been waiting for an inspection of the fire department by the Washington County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.
Fire and Rescue Association President Dale Hill told task force members during a Nov. 19 meeting that the inspection took a long time, in part, because of the volume of information the fire and rescue association had to obtain from the department.
“This is the first time it’s done anything like this,” Hill said of the rescue association.
The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted July 31 to suspend the Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. indefinitely because of its trouble responding to calls. Officials said the fire department had a “failed response” — it either didn’t respond within 10 minutes or didn’t respond at all — for 26.3 percent of its calls from Jan. 1 through May 31 this year. It had a similar rate the previous year, officials said.
The department has been a divisive issue in the Fairplay community, with critics complaining about service from the department and contending it needs new leadership. One critic said the situation “stinks from the head down.”
In task force meetings, Fairplay Volunteer Fire Co. President Bill Pennington has objected to what he calls personal attacks on the department. He said some information the task force was seeking — such as results of physical examinations of firefighters, the results of “fit tests” to determine the suitability of gear worn by firefighters and classifications of firefighters — were issues that already were addressed when a former fire and rescue association president determined the department met standards.
At a Dec. 10 task force meeting, Pennington laid out a plan for getting his department back in service, which included a paid staff. The task force is expected to consider that plan plus the results of the inspection of the department to come up with final recommendations for Fairplay, task force Chairman Paul Miller has said.
— Dave McMillion
Nov. 5 — Hagerstown Regional Airport had another turnover in service in 2012, as Cape Air departed and Sun Air arrived.
Cape Air started its service between Hagerstown and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in March 2009. It pulled out of Hagerstown on Oct. 31.
Sun Air — which flies between Hagerstown and Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia — was scheduled to step in on Nov. 1, so there would be no gap in regional commercial service.
However, partly because of a large East Coast storm, Sun Air pushed its opening day back to Nov. 5.
On the first day in Hagerstown, there was only one passenger from the public, other than a Federal Aviation Administration employee.
Sun Air expected to start with 14 flights per week and expand to 24 flights per week on Dec. 2.
However, the airline had trouble getting enough planes and training enough pilots, according to Airport Director Phil Ridenour, so the expansion now is scheduled for Jan 3.
Like Cape Air did, Sun Air is receiving a federal subsidy through the Essential Air Service program for communities that aren’t close to a major metropolitan airport.
The federal government will pay Sun Air $1.79 million per year, based on 24 nonstop round-trip flights per week.
In addition, Sun Air will get $2.5 million per year for 30 nonstop round-trip flights per week between Dulles and Lancaster Airport in Lititz, Pa.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved the subsidies through Sept. 30, 2015.
Washington County officials have said Dulles, a United Airlines hub, might be a better regional fit for Hagerstown than BWI, a Southwest Airlines hub. United has an “interline” agreement in which bags from other airlines are automatically forwarded with connecting flights, while Southwest does not, according to David Hackett of Sun Air.
Allegiant, which flies to Orlando Sanford International Airport in Florida, is Hagerstown’s other carrier.
— Andrew Schotz
Nov. 6 — After 10 two-year terms in Congress, U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., finally lost an election.
Bartlett, 86, was in a safely Republican 6th District until Democrats in Annapolis reshaped it in the fall of 2011, drawing in much more of Montgomery County.
The district had been 47 percent Republican and 36 percent Democrat. After redistricting, the percentages were roughly reversed.
Buoyed by that party enrollment advantage, Democrat John Delaney, 49, swept to victory in November, winning 59 percent of the vote to Bartlett’s 38 percent.
Libertarian candidate Nickolaus Mueller was a distant third with 3 percent.
Bartlett’s interest in an 11th term was an open topic of speculation at the end of 2011, as word circulated that his then-chief of staff, Bud Otis, was soliciting support for his own run if Bartlett didn’t seek re-election.
Other political players watched for signs Bartlett might step aside, including Maryland Republican Chairman Alex X. Mooney, who raised money for a possible campaign until he was confident Bartlett was serious about re-election.
When things settled down, Bartlett sailed through an April Republican primary.
On the Democratic side, Delaney, a first-time candidate, convincingly won a primary over state Sen. Robert J. Garagiola of Montgomery County, who had the support of much of the party’s power structure.
In the general election, Bartlett continued to run as a conservative favoring limited government.
Delaney, a financier, presented himself as a job creator who started two lending businesses.
Bartlett won Garrett and Allegany counties. Delaney won Montgomery, Frederick and even traditionally Republican Washington County.
Delaney’s winning margin was about 64,600 votes. His campaign team pointed out that even if Montgomery County results were omitted, Delaney still would have won the four remaining counties — by about 3,400 votes.
— Andrew Schotz
Nov. 6 — It was the year of the referendum in Maryland.
Voters in Maryland had seven statewide ballot questions to decide in the 2012 general election — more, if they lived in certain areas. Hagerstown voters, for example, had eight questions.
Four statewide questions drew the most attention:
- Allowing in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants if they graduate from Maryland high schools and attend Maryland community colleges, among other requirements.
- Affirming the state’s new congressional district map.
- Allowing same-sex marriage.
- Expanding gambling, including the addition of a casino in Prince George’s County and table games at all Maryland casinos.
Three lower-profile questions were about requiring orphans’ court judges in Prince George’s County and Baltimore County to be lawyers and changing the point at which an elected official is automatically suspended or removed from office.
All seven statewide questions passed. The closest were the same-sex marriage and gambling expansion questions, each of which received about a 52 percent favorable vote.
The one additional ballot question only for Hagerstown voters was whether the city should have nonpartisan primaries and general elections. Seventy percent of the votes cast were in favor.
Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington — through a group he started, MdPetitions.com — was a central force in getting some of the issues on the ballot.
First was the in-state tuition law, which the Maryland General Assembly approved in 2011. Parrott’s group used a website to enhance and simplify the process of collecting signatures for petitions to challenge the law.
MdPetitions.com also was involved in efforts to get the same-sex marriage law and the congressional redistricting map onto the ballot.
The gambling measure was automatically subject to a referendum.
As proposed constitutional amendments, the other three ballot questions also had to be presented to voters.
— Andrew Schotz
July 2011-Present — Maryland’s largest solar farm is about ready, Devin Williams, a project superintendent, said recently.
An array of 300,000 solar panels sits on state prison land off Roxbury Road, south of Hagerstown.
Williams — who works for Belectric, a Newark, Calif., company involved in the construction — said during an interview on Dec. 21 that final tests were under way and everything was proceeding as planned.
The solar farm is expected to generate a peak of 20 megawatts of power.
In July 2011, the Maryland Board of Public Works voted to lease land to Maryland Solar LLC for the project for $32,000 per year. The rent would rise 3 percent in year four of the 20-year lease, then every other year after that.
State Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, objected to the lease, arguing that Maryland could have negotiated a better deal, including energy royalties. He filed a bill to shift final oversight of future renewable-energy leases from the Board of Public Works to either a legislative committee or the full legislature.
The bill was defeated in a Senate committee.
Maryland Solar has since been acquired by First Solar Inc.
Gov. Martin O’Malley and other officials have spoken highly of the project and how it will help the state reach its goal of generating 20 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2022.
The Herald-Mail reported in October that Maryland generated less than 0.1 megawatts from solar-power plants in 2006, but the number had grown to 70 megawatts earlier this year and was expected to reach 100 megawatts by the end of 2012.
In June, Washington County announced details of another local solar project that would generate $515,000 for the county when it was completed and about $12.9 million over 25 years.
The county is leasing up to 130 acres at its Forty West and Resh Road landfills to EPG Solar for a 25-megawatt solar development.
— Andrew Schotz
Nov. 27-Present — At the beginning of 2012, Washington County was focused on building a senior citizens’ center on the Hagerstown Community College campus.
But when the plan developed too many snags, the Washington County Board of Commissioners changed course. The commissioners agreed on Nov. 27 to buy a former U.S. Army Reserves building at East Franklin and Willard streets in Hagerstown, near the municipal golf course.
The city, which owned the Reserve building and property, agreed the following week to sell it to the county for $625,000.
State assessments records show that the building and the 4.6 acres upon which it sits are valued at $2.03 million.
The county is using a $677,124 federal Community Development Block Grant to cover the purchase.
Hagerstown’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously on Dec. 19 to grant a special exception for the site to be used as a community or senior activities center.
HCC was considered the favored site for many months. However, some commissioners spoke out in opposition when they saw that the projected costs were rising — possibly as high as $7.5 million, including contingencies.
In April, with the project about 18 months behind schedule, the county learned that the lowest of six bids was about 20 percent higher than what was budgeted.
The county cut the project back in cost and scale. An early plan was for a two-story building of about 27,000 square feet, followed by a 2,300-square-foot addition. That was reduced to one story and about 19,000 square feet.
The project was rebid. But when the commissioners grew skeptical about proceeding at HCC, they rejected the second round of bids, too.
County officials expect the cost of a senior center at the former Reserve building to be roughly half of what it would have been at HCC — about $3.5 million instead of about $7 million.
The Washington County Commission on Aging’s property committee has said the new location is fine and the building could be turned into a good senior center.
— Andrew Schotz
Dec. 4 — The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 on Dec. 4 to restructure part of the government.
The plan is to create five new positions, including assistant county administrator.
Another position will be filled at a lower salary when it becomes vacant and one position is being revived, also at a lower salary.
Eight other unfilled positions, with a total of $464,000 in salaries, will not be funded.
The net savings from the additions and subtractions, according to County Administrator Gregory B. Murray, is expected to be about $117,000.
Murray has said that savings might be used later to pay for a top-level economic development position.
In April, the county dismissed Timothy R. Troxell from his position as executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.
Greg Larsen, the EDC’s airport business development manager, left his job in August.
In September, then-EDC Deputy Director Robin L. Ferree also departed, taking a job as president of Bowman Development.
The county held off on filling any of those three positions while it awaited a strategic development plan by Urbanomics Inc. and Leak-Gofarth Company LLC.
Under the reorganization, Sarah Lankford Sprecher, the director of public relations and community affairs, was named assistant county administrator. Murray said the change is a job reclassification since Sprecher already was performing many of the tasks.
Other new positions created in the restructuring include communications coordinator, architect, senior plans examiner and project liaison, which will manage the components of development projects.
Two of the eight vacant jobs are in engineering/construction.
Two others, in planning, arose when employees were promoted.
County public information officer was another vacant position, along with the three connected to EDC.
— Andrew Schotz