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Learning where the candidates stand

James Rada, Jr.
Thurmont Dispatch

(9/20) On Oct. 1, residents of Thurmont will elect two town commissioners. To assist residents in getting to know the candidates and their positions, The Thurmont Dispatch asked the candidates a number of questions on issues relating to the town. Here are their answers.

The candidates are: John Ashbury, Rosalie Bentz, Randy Cubbedge, Bob Lookingbill, Brian Lynch, Glenn Muth and Keith Naff.

What is your position on the three annexation requests (Myers Farm, Lawyer Farm, and Drees) before the town?

Ashbury: The Myers Annexation will be decided October 16 – before the new commissioners take office. I have real concerns about the Drees proposal because of its location, the traffic it will generate in an already congested area, and the wetlands which will be in close proximity to it. The Lawyer Farm annexation makes the most sense to me at present, but I would have to study the entire proposal in depth before making a final decision. I do, however, believe Thurmont should pursue annexations so it controls those areas adjacent to Thurmont, if only to create a buffer.

Bentz: I think we should use land available throughout the town first. Slow growth!

Cubbedge: I favor the Myers Farm annexation. I like its development mix and its yearly development is within the limits the town survey said the citizens of Thurmont would like to see. Affordable properties (MPDU's) will be included and the potential for a northern county emergency care facility is a plus. Drees Homes should not be approved until the sewer system is capable of handling the increased flow this property would generate. It would include MPDU’s, which is a plus. Access to the property still needs to be worked on and the pool must be open to all citizens. Lawyer proposal would be the least favored by me at this time. Their plan for the sewer only seems to be a bypass and will not help us in the long term. It will increase traffic and not have any housing variety.

Lookingbill: I am for smart, controlled growth. The Myers Farm would not only impact the close neighbors and the town but every traveler that would drive on US 15. I know very little about the Lawyer Farm proposal except that I think the builder/developer said they had to build a minimum 35 houses per year. The townspeople have spoke loud and clear that they feel we should only allow 30 permits per year. I’m not saying I’m against annexing this property but you have to go by our rules. As for the other request about all I know about that is they seem to want to build their own community.

Lynch: As was announced the present board of commissioners will decide the Myers Farm annexation request. My viewpoint is that all three would be good additions to our town with each having strengths and weaknesses to iron out. I recommended to the Planning & Zoning Commission to proceed with the Myers Plan as it offered the best variety of homes and businesses with the least direct impact on the town & the sewer systems. I continue to have grave concerns about the traffic problem, specifically “J” turns. Might Drees be the best choice?

Muth: I am opposed to the Myers annexation. It is beyond our Municipal Growth Boundary and would open that area to more development. The Lawyer and Drees annexations would be better fits for the town. Both will need to use our sewer system and therefore have a vested interest in helping us fix it. That being said, both the Lawyer and Drees properties have issues that need to be resolved before we even could consider annexing them.

Naff: I believe it is the best interest for the town of Thurmont to grow by no more than 25-35 homes per year. I also believe the town does not need a “big-box’ store, such as a Wal-Mart. This would have a damaging effect on the local environment and would put our local businesses in jeopardy of closing. I am not supportive of the Myers Farm annexation request. I believe the Drees request is asking for too many permits during a one year period. Also I believe they need to build a true “community pool”, not a private pool. The Lawyer Farm request has offered a good amount of open space and they have stated they have a good plan for our troubled sewer system. They also state they would have 35 permits a year. I still would like to study this proposal more.

How can the town solve its sewer problem?

Ashbury: Thurmont should have already applied for grant funds to correct its sewer problems in addition to asking the General Assembly and Congress to aid with funding. The town must resolve all issues pertaining to its sewer system before proceeding with any other initiatives. A major problem, which falls to the homeowners, is the laterals from the houses to the sewer line. We need to identify those which need repair and assist owners with the replacement of lateral. However, the town should not provide any direct assistance from taxpayers’ pockets.

Bentz: The sewer system needs to be fixed. Use the money paid for taps to fix the problems. Municipal, Bonds, Grants.

Cubbedge: Our current I&I projects must continue. Our sewer lines decayed over a course of time and fixing them will also take time. A temporary relief to the system could be the retention pond. I would like to look into the long term of finding a way for the town to fund the property owner's lateral repairs. Starting in our oldest sections of town and working forward. Legal issues and funding will be issues with this idea I am sure. If we are to ever be sure that the sewer system is repaired, the whole system must be addressed. Finally, continue our ongoing efforts to inspect and monitor the grease runoffs from our local restaurants must continue.

Lookingbill: I do not think there is a “magic bullet” solution to our sewer problem. For one thing I do not think a proper engineering study has been done. I believe we need more camera work and special attention should be given to the laterals that run from the houses/buildings. Even if we were to spend millions of dollars on the main system, if the laterals are leaking we still have the same problem. Grants are available for this work and we need to work with the state and federal government to help with funding.

Lynch: No one suggestion or idea will “solve” the sewer problem. All municipalities have ongoing sewer issues. Monies need to be budgeted yearly for pipe repair & replacement and for plant up-grades. If costs exceed budgeted funds, money may have to be re-allocated from other areas or rates increased. Continue systematic inspection and repair of all town lines then look at laterals. Install an equalization tank to help prevent what happened at Ironmaster Court. Use proffers from annexations, not specifically earmarked, to continue repairs. Grants, low interest loans, donations are part of the revenue stream.

Muth: The quickest band aid for our sewers is an equalization basin - a covered cesspool that holds sewage until the sewer plant can catch up. Price tag? $5 million. That only masks the problem. We have about 2,200 subscribers to the sewer system. If everyone used the same amount (this makes the math easy), the basin will cost each subscriber about $120 a year for the next 30 years. And remember, that doesn't fix the problem. Fixing the problem will cost $5 – $10 million more ($120 - $240 additional per year to the same sewer bill that I pay).
As you can see, this is a very expensive problem with no easy answers. I suggest contracting another civil engineer that might bring a fresh perspective and new ideas.

Naff: The town needs to fix the aging sewer system as quickly as possible. The town has already been fined and taken to court and we cannot afford this again. As commissioner I would apply for grants with the Board of County Commissioners, the Maryland Department of the Environment as well as our State and Federal Legislators. I would also attempt to obtain low-interest loans to assist in paying for repairs.

Are there other major issues that the town needs to address?

Ashbury: We need to locate and acquire additional water resources to answer Thurmont’s future needs. Doing so now will save money and provide insurance for the future instead of having to address the issue in a crisis situation later. Also, there are a lot of senior citizens struggling to remain in their homes because of rising utility bills and taxes. The town has had the opportunity for two years to provide some property tax relief for those over 70, and has failed to do so – or even discuss it.

Bentz: The town needs to be more careful about spending. All the money for a new police station could be better used to repair sewer and streets.

Cubbedge: I would like to see a strong effort made to get our young adults (18-30) more actively involved with our town government. Ladies and gentlemen these young citizens are the future leaders of Thurmont. I would like to see planning and zoning, parks and the police commission, specifically announce and seat, one member, in this age bracket onto their committees. I would also like to see if by our charter, we could have one of our high school seniors seated on these commissions also. While they could not be a voting member, their input will be invaluable to our town. They would follow the same rules for attendance and preparation as the current commission members. I think we could solicit the high school government classes in September when the school year begins and seat them from November to May. They could then take their experience as background for their senior project. Further, at a town meeting they could address the town in what their year has been like. Currently our commissioners have an open roundtable with the town. I would like to continue that practice and have a special meeting to invite everyone under the age of 30.

Lookingbill: I don’t know if they are major issues but there are some things I would like to work on if elected. I would like to start a “Seniors Commission”. This would be similar to the Parks, Police, Ethics, Planning & Zoning, etc. It would allow a direct voice to the Board of Commissioners from one of our most valuable sources. I would also like to form a group of interested citizens to see if there is any interest in starting a “Y” in Thurmont. I would like to see one started in Thurmont because of the benefits for all. I would also like to see a hospital open a satellite operation in Thurmont.

Lynch: As I have listened to the “man on the street” the major issues depend on your state in life – teenager, senior, married with children, age, condition of your home, etc. Major for some may be minor for someone else. Examples – municipal growth boundaries, rate increases, code enforcement, speeding, teen involvement, senior care. These and more come under the question “What quality of life do I want in Thurmont?” We must share our ideas, listen and reach common ground. We are all in this together. We just have different roles and talents.

Muth: The number one issue in my mind is public involvement in town business. We need more of it. You are our supervisors. We need more supervision. I want and need your thoughts on issues that affect all of us. Do not hesitate to contact me GMuth@Thurmont.com.

Should the town participate in the town’s economic development and what should that participation be?

Ashbury: Certainly the town must participate in its own economic development. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that taxpayers’ money should be used to promote it. There are myriad ways to promote this without spending public money. One way is for the town to meet in an advisory capacity with anyone planning projects for the economic development of the town.

Bentz: The town should be a part of any economic growth. Industry brings in revenue.

Cubbedge: The town should continue its support of our economic development. Our main street program has been a success, the farmers market, our gallery walks, the economic meetings and the notoriety it brings to the town, are but a few of the positive effects. Each in its own right has brought more people into our town, and assisted us economically.

Lookingbill: I believe the town did the right thing when it started this group. It always takes someone to get the ball rolling. Now that the group seems to have a great start it is my opinion they should be on their own. Many towns and cities have an Economic Development Commission or Chamber of Commerce and I think Thurmont should have one as well. I think a commissioner should be appointed to continue to regularly attend the meetings and functions of this group.

Lynch: I believe that the catalytic institution of Thurmont is business. Owners are the stimulus or spur that brings about the greatest result in all areas of Thurmont – main street designation and fundraising to name a few. This began with Jacob Weller and continues today. I am pleased that our Economic Development Committee is made up of business owners, residents, and a representative of the town government. This participation by town government should continue. Line of communication regarding the budget, future town plans, etc. are stronger with this arrangement.

Muth: The town is currently participating in economic development. We funded the part time position of Main Street Manager for three years. The manager’s responsibilities are to assist with economic development as well apply for grants that will help the town. Businesses have created an economic development group to further their growth. The town provides a commissioner liaison to that group. I supported these efforts.

Naff: I believe the current Board of Commissioners, as well as the local residents and business owners on the Economic Development Committee have done an excellent job in both promoting current businesses and encouraging new small business partnership between the Board of Commissioners and the Thurmont Economic Development Committee.

Are there places in the town budget can be trimmed and what are they?

Ashbury: Any budget officer who does not build some fat into his product isn’t doing his job. A careful comparison of the past five town budgets, with spread sheet analysis, would reveal the places that cuts can be made. But, it is possible that reducing the percentage growth of the budget from year-to-year will be the best way to control the spending rather than having to make cuts.

Bentz: I’m sure there are but I do not have access to the town budget.

Cubbedge: I have sat in the audience during the last 5 budget reviews and participated in its discussions. I believe the BOC has tried their very best to keep the operation of our town as conservative as possible. The increase in salaries and benefits has helped to keep the town staffed and our turn over minimal. With the potential of some key employees leaving us very soon we must be aware that finding replacements in today's job market may actually cost us more and we should prepare for this occurrence.

Lookingbill: I want to see what is known as a “bare bones” budget. Spend to maintain but spend the minimum. To spend $2 million dollars on a new police building knowing we need millions to repair the sewer was not, in my opinion, very good management of taxpayer money. Since it appears to be no way to stop it now, I would propose going back to the sheriff’s office and see if they would still be interested in opening a north county substation and use part of this facility for it. This could help with expenses for this building and free up money to be used for the sewer.

Lynch: All costs especially in the form of salaries and insurance continue to rise. I sat at budget meetings and watched department heads come with their requests for funding. Some were denied outright, some deferred to next year and others reduced for this year. Compromise was reached and the budget was balanced. I do not see where there can be much trimming except in the escrow and rainy day funds – but at what cost to our future? Like my own budget that is lean but lacking capital, maybe the town and I need to “grow” our income a bit?

Muth: I am a fiscal conservative. I did not vote for the tax rate increase, so yes the budget could be trimmed. We could cut some of the money that we put into our “rainy day fund” (savings acct. for emergencies which is already well funded).
Naff: I feel that it is not appropriate to comment on trimming certain areas of the budget without first discussing the needs of all town department heads. Our dedicated and loyal leaders such as Chief Gregory Eyler (Police Deptartment) and Gary Dingle (Water and Sewer) deserve this respect.

How should the town deal with its traffic issues?

Ashbury: There are four major roads which traverse Thurmont – MD 77, MD 550, MD 804, and U.S. 15. Before significant corrections can be made concurrence with the state and federal governments must be obtained. There are some corrections in traffic patterns that the town can address – placement of stop signs, traffic lights and calming devices. A major problem for drivers has been on S. Frederick St. at its intersection with E. Moser Rd. My suggestion that a yellow line be painted on the center of E. Moser Rd. has alleviated somewhat the hazard of making a left turn.

Bentz: I don’t have any solutions for the traffic problems. It’s only at peak hours that there are back ups. Like when the NVR and Donnelly and Structural Systems change shifts. If Thurmont Boulevard were completed it would help the south end of town.

Cubbedge: Wouldn't it be nice if we could play SIM CITY Thurmont and redo our road system as a computer game. Unfortunately we just can't do that. Our roadways are in place and we must deal with what we have. However, we can dictate our traffic patterns for future development. In all new development we should strive for a minimum of two entrances/exits. Hopefully this will reduce bottlenecks and spread traffic patterns as well as help with public safety in an emergency. Additionally, I would like to see an officer directing traffic for our school buses at Woodside and the Town Square at arrival/dismissal time.

Lookingbill: It is not an easy situation to deal with traffic that is driving on basically the same streets that were used by our ancestors driving horse and buggies. I think the truck routes in and out of town were a good idea that needs to continue to be enforced. Locals might try to take side streets when possible rather then going through the square. During the annexation, design, and development process it is the duty of town government to make sure the new area does not have an adverse impact on the current residents and make a bad situation worse.

Lynch: No growth, no tourism, no extra traffic. If we desire Thurmont to be a town that welcomes tourists to our rich history and asks businesses to set up shop here, then traffic will inevitably increase. Present - Continue to minimize truck traffic “in town.” Is it too late to widen Carroll onto Church Street? A light at Moser Road and 806 is inevitable. Future – Don’t give up on a commercial bypass to Rt. 15 or completion of Thurmont Boulevard. Maybe a “green” shuttle to take people to bank or store. Hmm – a job for a teen, and answer for seniors?

Muth: The first solution is to not add to the problem by annexing the Myers farm. Another possibility is to have a traffic light installed at Frederick and Moser Roads to help with new traffic from the library.

Naff: Dealing with the town’s traffic issues is simple. Have a slow growth policy and plan ahead. Also I would deal with traffic problems that arose quickly, by utilizing local, county and state agencies to solve the problems that affect the citizens on our busy roads.

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