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From the Desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(9/2012) Election Day in Emmitsburg is Tuesday, September 25. I want to say that although the opportunity to register as a candidate will have passed by the time this article is published, it’s important that you come out to vote if only to show your involvement. The two current commissioners (Cliff Sweeney and Tim O’Donnell) are running unopposed – as I did last year – so the reality is that we will probably have a small turnout.

We had a new Mayor elected last year, which has led to some changes in priorities including a seemingly single minded focus on promoting economic development. This year’s budget submitted by the new administration proposed a tax increase that was rejected by the commissioners who were able to identify mistakes and additional cuts that allowed us to maintain the existing rate – contributing to an average twenty percent drop in taxpayer’s annual bill due to a decrease in state property assessments. These elections do make a difference whether you are talking about a "vision" for the town or how much the town is sticking its hand in your purse or wallet!

In a small town we really have an opportunity to affect change if we just get involved. Emmitsburg has six elected officials (a mayor and five commissioners) who largely determine the direction of town policies if they exercise their powers of oversight. If they do not, as has sometimes been the case, decision making falls to the professional town staff who administer policies on a day to day basis.

If you’re like me, you’re probably frustrated by the dysfunction at the federal level. In town, if we have six people willing to work by consensus - discussing topics and taking action in a public forum - we can make things happen. Back room negotiation is a poor substitute. If an idea is a good idea, there’s no reason not to discuss it at a town meeting. As I’ve said before, all of your elected officials are residents of town just like you – not lords presiding over the manor. We are subject to the same fee structures or policy changes just as you are. My hope is that the six elected officials allow for a broad enough representation that everyone’s interests are considered.

Now the grim reality is that the pace of change can be glacial! To affect change, you are fighting the inertia of many years’ previous decisions. I would like to see us, as a community, develop statements of who we are and where we would like to go.

We need to complete a housing study so that we have a factual basis for making decisions on what new types of housing may be required and how much. We should be able to assess our needs ourselves - not simply trust property owners and developers with a financial interest in the decision to tell us what we need. We should also complete a transportation study so that we have a clear statement of goals and objectives related to improvements in town – where do we want new roads, sidewalks, or walking paths? If someone does propose a project, does it fit with our plans for the community as a whole or do they need to make changes?

We should change our development ordinances so that a new community is not just a collection of 100 houses on ½ acre lots - or so that apartment buildings or businesses are not just generic three story generic structures slapped together from the cheapest materials. Both of these models detract from the historic community we all share.

The time to begin making these changes is now – if not two years ago – when the pressure to "develop" has taken a breather due to economic conditions. Efforts to promote ‘economic development’ are also important – although I might argue that Emmitsburg doesn’t really need more strip malls. I also appreciate the primarily residential nature of our main street – do we really want to be Taneytown??? Meanwhile, the programs we have recently joined in an effort to dress up the town square or provide limited subsidies for residential and commercial property improvements in the historic area are worthwhile efforts that will hopefully yield benefits - if administered effectively.

As always, I encourage your participation and input into these projects. Please consider contacting any of your elected officials with questions or comments. Sincerely, Chris Staiger.

Read other articles by Chris Staiger