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About Commissioner Candidate Bill O'Neil

Tara E. Buck
Frederick News Post

Bill O’Neil thinks the town "is in a jam right now," he said recently from his home on Stonehurst Drive.

Having lived here two years, he’s seen its infrastructure stressed as more people move to town, bringing with them more cars and more toilet flushes.

"The sewers are in complete disrepair," Mr. O’Neil, 45, said. "They’re cracked, leaking raw sewage into the streams. The town needs to tackle that, but also control its own development."

Homes now in the development pipeline will only compound the problems, he said.

"The problem with having all these homes, it has a definite impact on the town," he said. "It impacts traffic, especially at the square. People find it increasingly difficult to cross the streets. There will be more homes, more toilets, more sewage there with which we have to deal."

He’s quick to point out, however, that his opposition to further residential growth right now does not signal his opposition to commercial growth.

"I support commercial development," he said. "Businesses provide jobs instead of bedrooms and increase the town’s coffers without the revenue draw that residences do. I support business growth and development.

Residential growth has to stop. We need to come to grips with our situation in hand."

A veteran of Capitol Hill who currently works as a federal affairs representative for Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, Mr. O’Neil said he also knows what it takes to get the big, federal dollars to town.

"I’m skillful at securing federal funds," he said. "I’ve spent a decade on Capitol Hill as a legislative director. ... It basically enables me to know what funds to seek, how to best seek them and how to pursue them for the town."

He faults the current board of commissioners for not doing enough already to get the town’s infrastructure back on track.

"Those who have served and haven’t solved the problem do shoulder some of the burden," Mr. O’Neil said. "You can’t point the finger at one individual but you can say that for the past 20 years, this has been a problem."

He said he fears that the Maryland Department of the Environment’s recent intervention in stopping major sewer leaks here is "only scratching the surface."

"This town, in its wisdom, is deciding that it’s important to expand its residential base," he said. "There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of growth. It got some money infused in the economy for the town."

He said, however, that the upcoming referendum to annex the 20-acre Bollinger property must fail.

"This is going to cause problems that are going to have to be dealt with," he said. "If you allow this development to go in, why shouldn’t we just take over all the parks and build and build and build? It doesn’t make sense."

The strong anti-growth message in town has struck a nerve with some residents, who rushed to join COPE, or the Citizens Organization to Preserve Emmitsburg, which is led by Mr. O’Neil and his "running mate," Harold Craig.

"It’s taken Emmitsburg more than 200 years to get to its population now," he said. "That’s more than 50 percent growth. It does not have the resources or ability to grapple with that growth. ... Once the sewer’s repaired, we have good roads, then we can re-enter the debate as to whether we can grow."

He says recent bouts of crime, like an armed robbery at the Silo Hill pharmacy, are also evidence of too much growth.

"There’s demand for greater police protection," Mr. O’Neil said. "We need new recreation resources for our elderly and our children."

Mr. O’Neil and his wife live at Penn Brook with their two children.