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Spending freeze for the town
gets a cold reception

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News-Post

A proposed spending freeze for the town got a cold reception from its residents and police chief Tuesday night.

Because it faces unprecedented potential legal bills and judgments, the board of commissioners sought to control spending by ceasing hiring, promotions and discretionary spending for the rest of the fiscal year. But several residents objected to the plan, especially since the town police force, budgeted for 12 positions, is four men short.

"Is that not a safety issue?" asked Phil Walko, chairman of the town’s police commission. "If it’s not a safety issue, why did we need (the four positions) to begin with?"

Don Tyler said the impact affects all employees. "Why should we jeopardize the last little bit of goodwill we have with town employees by freezing salaries and promotions?" he queried.

Rick May, the town’s clerk-treasurer, said the freeze would save an estimated $80,000. Without the money, Commissioner Glenn Muth questioned whether Thurmont will meet its expenses.

"We can’t raise taxes now," he said, "so where do you suggest we get the money?"

Police Chief Terry Frushour said he objected to the board’s bypassing of the department heads in dealing with the potential budget crisis. He said he didn’t hear about the freeze until the morning after it was mentioned at the Jan. 20 town meeting.

"I felt it should have been discussed with the department heads so we wouldn’t be blindsided by it," the chief said.

The three commissioners in attendance (Mayor Martin Burns and Commissioner Ron Terpko were out of town for business reasons), opted to delay any decision, preferring to discuss options with department heads first. Early in the meeting, the board voted 2-0 to approve up to $15,000 to rent flow meters for two months to help engineers diagnose problems with the town’s sewer system. Backups into homes occurred several times in 2003, but no major cause of the malfunction has been found.

Gary Dingle, the town’s water superintendent, said ARRO Consulting Inc. wants meters installed at seven points inside the system. The data should help the engineering firm determine where most of the wildwater is infiltrating the system. The meters will be monitored between March 15 and May 15, Mr. Dingle said, because that’s typically the rainy period in the spring. The money will come from town sewer-enterprise funds, not the general fund that would be impacted by a spending freeze.

Town resident Doug Green also raised a question for the board, objecting to being ticketed for leaving cars parked on the street near his East Main Street home for more than 24 hours. He said he has five legally tagged vehicles that are not junk but only has parking room for two in his driveway. The rest, he said, sometimes aren’t moved for months at a time. Chief Frushour said the town usually doesn’t enforce the ordinance unless it gets complaints. Those calls, he said, usually are sparked by disputes between neighbors.

The commissioners said they want advice from the police commission and asked Mr. Green to attend its next meeting. Commissioner Bill Blakeslee warned him that many residents likely support the ordinance.

One such resident rose to make his voice heard. John Kinnaird said he has no parking at his home and has to rent space for his vehicles. He called the ordinance "pretty reasonable," saying eliminating it could turn the streets into parking lots.

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