February 28th, 2018

Dear Voters, 


First, I want to say thank you for taking the time to read my platform. Our system of government, especially at the local level, relies on an informed electorate to make decisions in the best interest of the community.  This platform allows for far more detail than radio clips or a few sentences in the newspaper.

I make it a point to lay out my views and vision for what I would like to see accomplished. I believe it is important to be specific and straightforward instead of talking in “soundbites” like some politicians love to do.  Being in office for one term has given me some insights into what works and what doesn’t work in local government and this platform incorporates those insights. I love this area and know we can do some things better.

I will be the first to admit that being in elected office can be frustrating at times, but is also extremely rewarding. I am fortunate to have the support of people who have put trust in me to do my best and who ask for nothing in return except to see our community succeed. For that, I am eternally grateful for having this chance to serve in elected office since being elected in 2014.  There is so much that can be done if we are able to put the right team in place.

However, we do face many challenges. Significant challenges. It seems that anything “new” is met with fierce resistance; local governmental entities don’t consistently work well together; and there’s little urgency to change. Often we spend all our time on small “controversies” instead of the big picture that we should be focusing on. If we want to have growth, development, and success we need to change. I want the chance to continue to change these engrained attitudes and make local government and Allegany County better than when I started.   

 

I’m proud of my record so far:

1.      Expanding the Homestead Property Tax Credit to the 5th most generous in Maryland, this safeguards homeowners against rising assessments.  

2.      Ensuring the county has a balanced and responsible budget while keeping the property tax at 1991 levels.

3.      Instituting a blight removal and revitalization program, which for the first time is working with municipalities to tackle blight. This highly popular program has already funded $461,000 total in projects including $210,000 in demolition in the Rolling Mill area and has also been utilized by Frostburg for the Au Petit building, as well as Barton, Westernport, and Cumberland for blight removal.   

4.      Completion of Allegany High School project cut costs, worked with the Delegation, State, and BOE to replace 90 year old Allegany High School, which required us to fix a $20 million dollar funding gap. 

5.      Acquiring the Cumberland Chase property, which will have an intersection added in Spring 2018. This, combined with our new residential development incentive, will help spur development of new homes and add to our tax base. 

6.      Creating a tax incentive program aimed at small tech-based companies that provides up to $3,000 per job created.

7.      Working with the delegation to end alcohol blue laws for the first time since Prohibition allowing Sunday sales. 

8.      Bringing tourism under the authority of economic development, this closer cooperation has allowed the two entities to work much more closely.

9.      Worked to secure pro-bono representation to ensure we were successful defeating a federal lawsuit seeking to remove the 10 commandments from the court house.

10.  Put Sheriff’s deputies in the LEOPS retirement system.

11.  First update to Fire-EMS funding formula since 1981 and the upgrade of a new radio system, which was the biggest one time expenditure on Emergency Services in history. 

12.   Barrellville water project brought clean water to 58 homes and allowed residents to stop relying on a stream to access water. 


I remain optimistic on Allegany County’s future, but success will only come if there is a vision.  This requires committed elected officials, buy-in from the public and from the business community, and staff that are able to help turn vision into actions. I intend to spend the next four years doing my best to make that vision of growth, a reality.     


Thank you for your continued trust, support, and kindness.

 

 

 

Jake

 

The rest of this document contains my thoughts on a few of the issues of importance in our community.  The list isn’t exhaustive (it could never be), however I hope it provides some framework of what we have done and what we should work toward over the next four years and beyond. Finally, if something isn’t clear or if the rationale behind a specific action or policy is muddled please feel free to contact me for further explanation. 

 

Real Ideas, Real Results.

Economic Development

Economic development continues to be the biggest issue facing Allegany County.  Funding for education, infrastructure, and every other government function can be achieved with economic growth, which then allows for population growth and a broader tax base.   

We continue to lag behind the larger region in terms of growth and development.  Some of this can be accounted for by long-term trends and demographics and our proximity from growing metro areas, but I don’t think this fully explains the continual lack of progress. Projects here have been slow and sporadic. Momentum has disappeared quickly after completed projects. Urgency within government has been nearly non-existent. The status quo simply isn’t working.

Despite the difficulty, we’ve still made progress. I was a driving force to: replace our economic development director, bring tourism under the authority of economic development, and ensure that experience in workforce and economic development in Maryland were key factors in the hiring of a new county administrator. All of these decisions helped improve the economic development process and will yield results in the years ahead.

I aided Frostburg State University in securing state funding for an office of economic development, which will benefit the region in years ahead. Another difference from 2014 to 2018 is that the conversation has shifted. I was one of the first people to mention targeting “technology” or “biotech” based industries, and now nearly all elected officials and staff have added these of areas of focus that we should be working to attract.  I successfully pushed for creating a tax incentive program aimed at small tech-based companies that provides up to $3,000 per job created. This (combined with new favorable biotech and cybersecurity tax credits sponsored by Delegate Buckel) passed in 2016 and gives us a powerful tool to incentivize these companies to locate in our community.

I was also an early and vocal supporter of medical cannabis. Manicorp LLC, the new growing facility on Kelly Road, is in a building leased from Allegany County Government with an option to purchase price of over $600,000. This has brought in rental income, which can be used for future development projects. In addition to the new jobs and possibilities for expansion, local contractors performed nearly six million dollars’ worth of construction.   

Being in office has given far more insight into the inner-workings of government and detailed knowledge about how economic development is handled within government.  There are four realistic and achievable actions that can be taken that would help Allegany County’s economic development.      

1.      When I entered office, there was no short-term or long-term plan for economic development strategy in Allegany County. A strategic plan* will give targets, goals, and areas for action in economic development. Without a plan we will keep muddling along- project to project, without any goals or timelines, and without defining what we are trying to achieve in economic development. This was clear to me when I ran for office in 2014 and has become even more evident during my time in office. 

 

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

This strategic plan will put sharp focus on industries to be targeted, ideal areas of growth and development, and projects and actions that the county can undertake to help facilitate these goals.

 

As President of the Allegany County Commission, I helped establish funding for a strategic plan that was approved in 2017 and will commence in 2018.  This plan will be led by an outside firm along with significant input from local business and the community at-large. For the first time economic development will have deliverables, accountability, and goals to be working towards each day.

 

2.      It’s essential that we begin undertaking joint economic development projects* with Cumberland and Frostburg.  For some, there is a fear or worry about who will get more credit or blame at the outcome of a project. Once and for all, we need to destroy the “us vs them” mentality that has taken hold in some corners of local government. We need to have a common set of priorities that we are working toward and can be advocated for in Annapolis, if necessary. 

 

Currently, nearly every group has their own “asks” without much coordination of the priorities and requests of other entities.  County government specifically is in a unique position to help unify all of these “asks” and can set an all-encompassing “Allegany County Economic Development Agenda”. In another term as commissioner, I will continue to aggressively work to help set our agenda and ensure that all entities are more on the same page. 

 

3.      We need to restructure the county’s economic development department* in a way that recognizes that there are two very different functions within the department.  An External Director of Economic Development would be a new contract-based position, whose sole focus would be on outreach to companies outside of Allegany County and the promotion of our area across Maryland.  Success or failure would be measurable and we would constantly have someone promoting our interest and keeping us in the conversation across the state.  The other function of economic development is internal economic development.  This Internal Director of Economic Development would help companies through the regulatory process, applying and monitoring state and local tax incentives, overseeing the county’s business parks, keeping the community up-to-date on strategy and projects, and leading all county economic development projects.

 

By dividing the department into two separate functions, it would allow us to better assess what succeeds- and what doesn’t. It would also allow the External Director’s primary focus to be on attracting businesses and targeted industries to Allegany County. I would propose that this new position be funded out of the Revolving Building Fund (RBF). This is a key role that I believe is currently missing from our economic development strategy and should quickly be addressed as an area of focus. 

 

4.      We are also working on the tourism and quality of life aspects of economic development. These issues not only include topics like low crime, education, and a clean environment, but also address the eternal complaint that “There’s nothing to do” here.

 

In order to reach our full economic potential we need to make sure we have a quality of life to match. One important aspect of future tourism efforts is to emphasize large-scale events* as well as promotion. Tourism's new focus is important because we need to continue to attract visitors, but we also need events for both visitors and locals to enjoy. Creating more events and partnering with other entities both private and public helps create a positive image of community allows us to build positive momentum for the area, which benefits the region economically. It also more easily allows for visitors to repeat trips to our region. Yearly events help with branding and building a reputation as an area with plenty to see and do.  

 

These events would be large scale yearly events that would be directed at both locals and tourists. Good examples are Delfest, the wing-off, CASA wine festival, and Heritage Days.

 

Budget and Tax

Allegany County will continue to show fiscal restraint by keeping our budget balanced* and spending increases minimal.  I believe we can continue to properly run local government without any tax increases if we carefully assess new spending and keep borrowing and bond issuances under our debt affordability limit of three million dollars per year. 

I view my role as county commissioner to be two-fold: first, serving as the county’s biggest promoter to businesses and those seeking to locate here, and advocating for our share of state and federal funds; and second, being the chief advocate for county taxpayers- which means not only ensuring your public funds are spent wisely, but also making sure the government is operating properly and efficiently. 

We have kept spending increases in the total budget well below the statewide average. Moving forward I’m committed to continuing to keep our spending increases near the same level as inflation, being roughly 2%. As the table below shows we have been able to slow Allegany County Government’s spending growth to create the most fiscally conservative budget in Western Maryland. 

Allegany County Government Spending 2015-2018

FY 16 $84,577,664. Increase of 3.0% or $2,434,891

(14th slowest growing budget out of 24 counties)

FY 17 $86,262,478. Increase of 1.9% or $1,684,814

(9th slowest growing budget out of 24 counties) *Best in Western Maryland

FY 18 $86,897,607.  Increase of .74% or $635,129

(5th slowest growing budget out of 24 counties) *Best in Western Maryland

Even though we have kept our budget increases to a minimum we have still been able to achieve policy goals and expand funding to some critical areas. 

            Education

One area of improvement has been funding to the Board of Education. A main point of conflict with the previous board of commissioners was the county cutting funds to education.  In 2014, I said there is major difference between flat funding or small increases, and cutting their budget allocation in real dollars.  I still believe that is true today.  As the chart below shows over the past three years funding for the Board of Education has increased over one million dollars per year.

Board of Education Funding

FY 2015 $29,418,144 (approved 2014)

FY 2016 $29,837,545 (approved 2015)

FY 2017 $30,169,685 (approved 2016)

FY 2018 $30,424,308 (approved 2017)

It’s important to note that the current yearly “disagreements” over funding between the commissioners and Board of Education involve how much additional funds they will receive in the upcoming fiscal year. They the Board of Education will be receiving an increase but the rate of increase is a point of contention. 

None of the allocations listed above include the $13.2 million dollars in funding for the new Allegany High School.  Replacing the existing 90 year-old facility was necessary and the new facility should be a source of pride for all locals; it will be one of the nicest public high schools in the state. Some forget the difficulty of funding the project and there were some efforts to not move forward (even though we would have given up tens of millions of dollars in state school construction funds). 

After the initial bids for construction were received, a gap of over twenty million dollars had to be closed.  I worked closely with the Board of Education and the delegation to cut costs and find extra funding. The school is nearly ten million dollars less than was originally bid, the state added an extra six million dollars, and locally the county allocated another four million dollars. 

There will always be critics of a project but when the final cost totals will show we spent $13.2m in local funds for a school that cost $52million dollars.  Few other counties in Maryland could ever get that amount of state support for a project.  We also have earmarked $950,000 in Rocky Gap revenues to be used for furnishing the new school.  Our investment in this facility now will benefit generations of future students in years to come.  


Office of State’s Attorney

Shortly after I was elected I began reviewing salaries of employees and those who work in outside agencies. That review showed we had some prosecutors making less than $40,000 per year. These are the professional attorneys we rely on to prosecute all crimes committed in Allegany County and they are expected to keep repeat offenders off the street.  It became apparent that we were having difficulty keeping and retaining talented prosecutors in the office because the salary was so uncompetitive. To fix this situation we gradually increased funding so that every prosecutor is paid $50,000 per year- this is more than reasonable for attorneys who go to work each day and prosecute those who commit crimes in our community. 


Law Enforcement

Our police officers can’t be thanked enough for their dedication and effectiveness in an increasingly dangerous profession. A problem we struggle with locally is paying a competitive salary to officers, all of whom could go in a metro area and make far more money.  Every one of our officers are here because they want to be here and have a vested interest in making sure our community is a safe place to live. 

There was one way we could improve our competitiveness and show a commitment to law enforcement.  Allegany County Sheriff’s Department was the only police department locally and one of the few in the state that was not in the Law Enforcement Officers' Pension System (LEOPS).  Instead officers were in the same retirement system as regular employees, despite the obviously job differences.   By switching to LEOPS police officers are eligible to retire after 25 years instead of 30, which is standard for nearly all law enforcement entities.  The county had to increase our funding used to pay for police pensions but I believe this is well worth it and necessary.  The other added benefit is with a shorter career we have less officers working late into their 50’s, which has equated to less police being injured on the job. 

I believe we need to hire more police officers in order to combat crime and do the time consuming investigatory work.  A reasonable approach would be to hire 2 additional officers* to be attached to the highly successful C3I Unit, which deals with the most serious crimes committed locally; another officer for road patrol deputy to assist in responding to the increase in calls for service; and an extra correctional officer at the detention center to assist with the intake of inmates. In total this would be hiring four new law enforcement positions* that would have immediate impact on crime in Allegany County.



Emergency Services

One basic service of local government should be 911 and EMS.  When you dial 911 an ambulance or other first responder should be quickly dispatched. If government can’t achieve that, then it is failing. We found that response times were declining to the point of creating serious potential issues. I am well aware of the costs associated with increasing EMS coverage, but I believe that responsive EMS is one of the most important and basic functions of local government.  We put a funding plan in place, as well as designed a response system to locate new medics and EMTs across the county. The result was a tripling of frontlines staff working in Emergency Services. This has already yielded the benefits of faster response times and far fewer calls being pushed to other different departments before service is dispatched.   

 

 

On January 1, 2017 there were:                                  As of February 1, 2018 there are:

8 Full-time Medics                                                      20 Full-time Medics

4 Part-time Medics                                                      14 Part-time Medics

6 part-time EMTs                                                        6 Full-time EMTs

A total of 18 employees.                                             23 Part-time EMTs

                                                                                    A total of 63 employees

 

We will continue to work with the City of Cumberland to figure out how to best allocate resources to benefit residents in terms of safety and response time as well as financially. 

 

Public Works

One of my most rewarding experiences as county commissioner has been being able to play a part to bring public water to the residents of Barrellville. For some residents getting water meant running a hose to the stream, which was then brought back to a holding tank.  This stream water could not be used for cooking or drinking, when the stream froze in the winter it meant going out and breaking the ice to ensure enough water was in the tank for bathing or washing dishes.  Regardless of political opinions, clean drinking water should be viewed by everyone as something the government should be in charge of. 

Our public works department worked with outside funding agencies and put together a package that allowed the project to move forward at a rate that the 58 households could afford. By designing the system in-house we saved money.  USDA gave $854,000 in grant funds, MDE added $150,000 in grants, and CDBG added another $400,000 grant.  This left the users with only $252,000 in loans to be paid back on a project that cost $1.65 million dollars.

There is a role for government in our lives, but it seems at the state and federal level the basic functions of government have been ignored. Getting clean drinking water to residents of Allegany County when they turn on the tap is such a basic role of government it seems to be overlooked. I believe returning to the fundamentals of what government can and can’t achieve will help rebuild trust and pride in governmental institutions. 

The county has many roads that are listed as “O.P. roads”, which means while they are on the map and have owners living there full-time, they are not county maintained roads. Some of these non-county maintained roads have many residents and yet they don’t receive the benefits of a publicly maintained road.

In the beginning of my second term I would direct our public works department to review county-maintained roads and O.P. roads to ensure our resources are being used the benefit of all county taxpayers. I would also push the doubling of funds in the O.P. road program.  This is a matched program whereby homeowners and the county split the cost of needed for upfront road repairs before we bring them into the county system.  By reviewing these O.P. roads and increasing this fund from $25,000 to $50,000* we will be able to upgrade more roads and move more quickly with pending projects.

I am also committed to working with the City of Cumberland to repair or replace the bridges* that have been closed over the past year. Not only are these closed bridges an inconvenience, but it is a safety issue that hurts the ability of EMS and fire to quickly get to certain areas. We will continue to work quickly on a solution with the City of Cumberland and CSX that will result in all impacted bridges being repaired or replaced.  We have earmarked $5m of the county’s Federal Bridge Funds to be used for these projects and have lent engineering staff to help assist on the process and design work.  

 

8 for 2018 Summary

1.  Hire an outside firm to create a comprehensive economic development plan

2.  Partner for joint economic development projects with Cumberland and Frostburg

3. Restructure Economic Development Department to include Internal & External Directors positions

4.  Emphasize large scale tourism events

5.  Ensure that the county has a balanced and responsible budget without increasing taxes

6.  Hire 4 new law enforcement positions (2 - C3I Unit, 1 - road patrol, 1 - correctional officer)

7. Review county maintained and O.P. roads; increase O.P. road fund from $25,000 to $50,000 per year

8. Re-open bridges on Washington Street and Cumberland Street, and repair Baltimore Street bridge