2009 eventful year for region, nation

2009 eventful year for region, nation

From Staff Reports
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — As the Times-News and the Associated Press take a look at 2009 in today’s Year in Review, there’s no surprise that the state of the economy and President Barack Obama’s inauguration are billed as the top two stories.

But the 12-page annual special section digs much deeper into local happenings from January through December 2009, for readers to refresh their memories or learn what they missed the first time around.

Cumberland’s New Year’s baby in 2009 was David Patrick Kitzmiller Jr., born Jan. 1 at 7:37 p.m. in the Western Maryland Health System’s Memorial Hospital, which officially closed Nov. 21. That was the day that the new Western Maryland Regional Medical Center opened on Willowbrook Road after three years of construction.

In February, the bid for a slots parlor at Rocky Gap State Park was shot down for failure to include a $4.5 million licensing fee. The seven-member state Video Lottery Facilities Location Commission voted unanimously to reject the bid from Empire Resorts Inc. of New York.

March brought the announcement that Roses Store would locate as the anchor business in the Queen City Drive shopping plaza in the months to come.

Washington Street residents voted in April against the proposed restoration of a brick roadway, opting for repaving the asphalt instead.

Plans for a new water park hotel near Deep Creek Lake were suspended in May after the developer for Aqua Mountain Resort was unsuccessful in gaining financial support from public sources.

Allegany County’s first confirmed case of the H1N1 virus was reported in June by county health officials. The swine flu outbreak was voted the No. 5 story of the year in both an AP poll and Facebook voting results.

The county lost two school board members in 2009. President Jane Dawson died of cancer in July, and Fred Sloan died following a lengthy illness in December.

Also in July, a fire raged through the Comcast building on Main Street in Keyser, W.Va., causing $200,000 damage to the structure and an equal amount of damage to the communication equipment housed inside.

In August, police arrested 19-year-old Thomas Lance Krenn in the beating death of his 42-year old aunt, Rose Marie Leyh, over Memorial Day weekend.

Cumberland officials began a discussion in September that has not been decided on whether to continue operating the city’s fire department in its current form or to make changes to help tackle state budget cuts.

Garrett County teacher Jennifer Burdock Rankin was named Maryland’s 2010 Teacher of the Year in October. She is a language arts and math instructor at Northern Middle School in Accident.

The new Allegany County Human Resources and Development Commission building on Virginia Avenue opened Nov. 6.

Finally, in December, the first measureable snowfall of the winter season hit the Cumberland area, causing injuries to several motorists.

For complete lists of the top 10 stories voted by the AP, plus Facebook users, turn to today’s Year In Review. You may be surprised.

If you are thinking of buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, call Jay Ferguson of Long & Foster Real Estate for all of your real estate needs! 877-563-5350

Garrett County in need of more 2010 census takers

Garrett County in need of more 2010 census takers

Commissioners want residents to take advantage of jobs

Megan Miller
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — Uncle Sam needs you — to work for the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010.

That’s according to the bureau’s Frederick office, which covers parts of Western Maryland including Allegany and Garrett counties. The office is stepping up its employee recruitment efforts in the two counties, said Patty Cox, a Frederick Census Bureau employee.

“We have recruiters in Allegany and Garrett, but it’s been more challenging to reach people there because it’s such a large area to cover,” Cox said.

In late February or early March the Census Bureau will be hiring temporary employees in the two counties to work as census takers. Beginning in April 2010, the census takers will go into local communities to collect data from households that do not return a census form by mail.

The issue came up briefly during Tuesday’s public meeting of the Garrett County commissioners. The commissioners released a prepared statement about the importance of the decennial census and local census jobs.

“It would be in the best interest of all citizens of the county to take advantage of not only the census count of 2010, but the jobs which will be available in the early spring,” the statement read in part. “Aside from the importance to the county of an accurate census count, these are good-paying opportunities for our citizens.”

Census taker jobs through the Frederick office start at a pay rate of $15.50 per hour. Census takers are also paid for mileage.

About 3.1 million applicants will be needed to fill census-taker jobs nationwide. Census takers work about 20 to 40 hours per week, usually in the evenings and on weekends, according to the Census Bureau Web site. The jobs are temporary and will last through the data-gathering phase of the 2010 census.

The Census Bureau has been recruiting workers since fall 2008 for the earliest stages of census preparation, but fall 2009 saw the beginning of its full-scale recruitment effort for census takers.

Cox said the bureau attempts to hire local people as census takers whenever possible to go out into communities and collect data. All prospective census takers are required to take an exam. That testing is going on now at the One-Stop Career Center in both Allegany and Garrett counties.

Every household should expect to receive a census form in the mail in March 2010. If the completed form isn’t returned by mail, the Census Bureau will mail a reminder to the same address. If the completed form still isn’t returned, a census taker will visit the address to collect the information in person.

The 2010 census form will look a bit different from those used in previous years. All households will receive a short form survey consisting of 10 questions, some of which are repeated to gather information about every person living at that address.

The Census Bureau did away with its long-form questionnaire altogether. Instead, detailed population information is gathered using the American Community Survey, which is sent to a small portion of the U.S. population — about 3 million households — each year.

People interested in applying to work as census takers can contact the Allegany or Garrett County One-Stop Career Center, call the toll-free U.S. Census Bureau jobs line at (866) 861-2010, or go online to 2010censusjobs.gov.

If you are thinking of buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, call Jay Ferguson of Long & Foster Real Estate for all of your real estate needs! 877-563-5350

Wisp worker recovering at hospital

Wisp worker recovering at hospital

Cumberland Times-News

MCHENRY — A worker at the Wisp Ski Resort who was injured by a snow-grooming machine was recovering from surgery in Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, W.Va., on Friday afternoon.

Kevan Monn was listed in stable condition by hospital officials after being transferred there Wednesday from Garrett Memorial Hospital.

Moon was working in a maintenance garage Thursday when he was pulled beneath the rear end of the machine, which resembles a bulldozer, according to Wisp spokeswoman Lori Epp.

Northern Rescue Squad and Deep Creek Volunteer Fire Department responded to the 2:53 p.m. call Wednesday, according to Garrett emergency officials.

If you are thinking of buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, call Jay Ferguson of Long & Foster Real Estate for all of your real estate needs! 877-563-5350

Allegheny Power customers can buy wind energy

Allegheny Power customers can buy wind energy

Clean Currents offers 2 products

Megan Miller
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — Allegheny Power customers can now buy wind-generated electricity from renewable energy broker Clean Currents — but what will they actually be getting?

Clean Currents, headquartered in Rockville, offers wind-generated electricity to Allegheny Power customers in Allegany, Garrett, Washington and Frederick counties, according to a Dec. 7 news release from the company.

Clean Currents sells two products, electricity that’s touted as either 50 percent or 100 percent wind energy. But that doesn’t mean the specific electrons flowing into a customer’s home are actually coming from wind turbines, explained company spokeswoman Kristi Neidhardt.

“It’s actually more like supporting wind power,” Neidhardt said. “We purchase renewable energy credits. It’s a way of helping wind farms to be economically viable.”

When companies sell “clean” electricity, what customers get is still regular electricity out of the power grid, the same thing they’d be getting from other suppliers. That’s because the power generated by wind farms and other renewable energy producers goes into the grid along with the electricity produced from coal and other sources. There’s no way to keep electrons from one source separate from others or to bring only wind-generated electricity into a home or office, unless the structure is connected to its own wind turbine.

But when you buy electricity from a renewable energy broker, you are actually purchasing clean energy — in a way.

Renewable energy producers, such as wind farms, basically create two products, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The first is the actual, physical electricity that goes into the power grid. The second product is an intangible commodity called a renewable energy certificate. Every time a renewable energy producer generates 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity, it equals one certificate, which that producer can sell.

Renewable energy brokers purchase the certificates, and each one is representative of buying 1,000 kilowatt-hours of clean electricity. Customers, in turn, basically pay for the certificates from the brokers and indirectly support the renewable energy producer.

“Typically companies purchase the renewable energy certificates several times throughout the year,” said Clean Currents President Gary Skulnik. “There’s a procurement strategy based on customer base and pricing. The customers at Allegheny Power now can lock in their pricing for one or two years, because we’ve been able to lock in certificates for one- or two-year periods.”

That approach helps Clean Currents’ offerings be priced competitively. The company’s rates for its 100 percent product are more expensive than the average utility price, Neidhardt said, but its 50 percent rates are slightly less expensive.

Clean Currents is only an electricity supplier and uses existing utility lines to serve its customers. Customers who choose to switch to Clean Currents will still have their electric lines serviced by the utility company, and will still call the utility in the case of a power outage or other problem.

If you are thinking of buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, call Jay Ferguson of Long & Foster Real Estate for all of your real estate needs! 877-563-5350

Stanton says he’ll challenge Beitzel

Stanton says he’ll challenge Beitzel

Oakland resident will seek District 1A delegate seat

Kevin Spradlin
Cumberland Times-News

MCHENRY — It’s not yet official, but Democrat James “Smokey” Stanton said he’s committed to challenging incumbent Wendell Beitzel for the District 1A seat in the House of Delegates.

Stanton, 62, said he could bring “a unique blend” of skills to the position, which he believes has not effectively been used to represent district residents in Garrett County and along Georges Creek in Allegany County. Stanton said his experience in small business and large corporations, as well as existing contacts in state and local governments, would ensure “the learning curve is fairly flat.”

“Yes, it would be a new job for me,” said Stanton, a Garrett County native and a resident of Oakland, but “I’ve worked within the Maryland legislature for a total of 17 years. I understand how to write legislation. I understand how to work within the legislative process in order to effectively advocate (for) our area.”

Beitzel confirmed Wednesday he will seek a second term in office. He defended his ability to effectively represent District 1A.

“I think, for a first-term delegate … that I have been a very effective legislator,” Beitzel said, “and I think if anyone looks at some of the bills that I’ve passed and issues I’ve defended … I have absolutely no problem defending my record.”

Stanton said he intends to file with the Garrett County Board of Elections shortly after Jan. 1. He has spent the last few months distributing literature at events across the district, from the Garrett County Fair in August to the District 1 delegation meeting with the public this month at Garrett College.

Deadline for candidates to file for local and state offices is 9 p.m. July 6. The primary election is set for Sept. 14. The general election is slated for Nov. 2.

Many people seem to understand that people living in Garrett and Allegany counties share a different set of concerns than people living in most other parts of the state. But understanding that is not good enough, he said.

“I don’t believe it’s enough to simply understand the problems,” Stanton said. “We must have representation that can state the nature of our issues and the impact of those to people who have never been to our area. It demands that we have representation that can work with those other jurisdictions and to advocate for our corner of the world.

“I think there are a lot of areas where we need improvement in the effectiveness of our representation,” Stanton said.

Stanton said the person who holds the District 1A seat needs to better communicate to the rest of the General Assembly how adversely more rural counties, towns and communities are impacted by state budget cuts. The legislator needs to file amendments to bills with statewide ramifications instead of allowing the “cookie-cutter” bill to sail through the legislative process. Those amendments could make certain bills more palatable to Mountain Marylanders’ diets.

Second, Stanton said, new legislation is needed that “protects our culture, our way of life, our economic situation, in comparison to the rest of the state.”

Stanton said a third area of improvement required for District 1A is better constituent service.

Officials in both counties sometimes “encounter a situation with a state agency that sometimes the state agency is not as responsive as it could be,” he said. “Effective representation means working with those agencies in order to solve the problem … and solve it appropriately.”

Stanton is a former three-term Oakland Town Council member and was elected by his fellow council members five times to the position of council president. In 2006, he was elected chairman of the Garrett County Democratic Central Committee.

If you are thinking of buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, call Jay Ferguson of Long & Foster Real Estate for all of your real estate needs! 877-563-5350

Cuts create unsafe conditions, reps say

Cuts create unsafe conditions, reps say

Detention, juvenile centers operating with smaller staffs

Kevin Spradlin
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — Representatives of the association responsible for negotiating for six of nine elements of Maryland government workers engaged in “a lively conversation” with all four members of the District 1 legislative delegation on Monday.

Sue Esty, assistant director of the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and Steve Berger, the organization’s Western Maryland representative, gathered with three correctional officers and Ed Shoemake, a resident advisor at Mountain Meadow Youth Center in Grantsville. They stressed during a 90-minute meeting with Sen. George Edwards and delegates Kevin Kelly, LeRoy Myers and Wendell Beitzel that state employees shouldn’t shoulder the load of resolving the state’s budget problems.

There have been enough furloughs and layoffs of state workers. It’s had “serious and tragic consequences for many of AFSCME’s 30,000 members across the state, Esty said.

One female correctional officer said North Branch Correctional Institution has eliminated overtime on her shift and has “collapsed posts” — reducing the number of required officers per shift at certain stations — on certain days of the week. She said the change has created “an unsafe environment for her and her colleagues.

The Times-News has opted not to identify the three correctional officers. Esty said all three feared the possibility of disciplinary action at work.

Berger said NBCI and Western Correctional Institution both are maximum-security facilities but are operated like medium-security facilities in that inmates have access to a gym, an outdoor recreation area and they eat meals with each other.

One male correctional officer said despite budget constraints within the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees all state prisons, programs for inmates have not been reduced.

“There’s a G.E.D. program for inmates with life sentences,” he said.

Shoemake, at Meadow Mountain Youth Center, said policy requires at least one staff person for every six children at the Garrett County facility. In reality, it frequently operates with a radio of 10 children for each of its four employees. Shoemake said he suffered injuries after being involved in an altercation with a child who stood 6-feet, 8-inches tall and weighed 360 pounds.

“I didn’t have staff to back me up, Shoemake said. “You cannot staff that facility with that amount of people” in a facility that never closes.

“Not only am I at risk, but the public’s becoming at risk,” he said.

Esty and Berger offered eight revenue-producing possibilities — including six taxes on alcohol, gasoline, Internet purchases and services such as auto repair that met with something less than enthusiasm from the delegation. The two also suggested using $325 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund and removing the sunset provision of the “millionaire’s tax” which, they claimed, could generate an additional $100 million.

Kelly said Allegany County is the second poorest county in Maryland and resented efforts to increase taxes on an already burdened constituency.

“Do you support new revenue?” Esty asked Kelly.

Kelly said that every one of Esty’s proposals were a tax on the people.

“I can not think of any (taxes I support) right now,” Kelly said.

Esty argued that the “economy has changed” and the proposed solutions each are “things that are responding to the economy.”

By taxing the services in a service-based society, she said, it could even lead to a lower tax rate.

Edwards countered that the solution can’t simply be to “tax people.” He said the delegation could consider refusing to endorse any new tax ideas without first changing the attitude in Annapolis.

Edwards said a primary goal should be to get lawmakers to consider cutting programs before considering any new taxes. He also said state colleges might have to raise tuition costs instead of freezing rates for a sixth consecutive year.

If you are thinking of buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, call Jay Ferguson of Long & Foster Real Estate for all of your real estate needs! 877-563-5350

Population decreasing in Allegany, Garrett

Population decreasing in Allegany, Garrett

TINA IRGANG
CNHI News Service

WASHINGTON — Until a few years ago, things were looking up for Western Maryland. A sound national economy and a desire for country living brought workers from Baltimore and Washington to the fringes of the state, causing the demand for domestic and commercial real estate to skyrocket.

But since the beginning of the recession, this trend has reversed. As a lack of job security and the high costs of commuting drive workers closer to urban centers, Western Maryland hopes to strengthen its local economy by embracing green jobs.

Frederick has been the most successful of the western counties in this regard. Its population has grown by 49 percent since 1990.

Frederick’s success is also a product of its proximity to Washington, D.C.

“When D.C.’s doing well, it brings Frederick up with it,” said Anthony Stair, associate professor of economics at Frostburg State University. “You see the growth extend outward. I think it’s also hit Hagerstown a little bit, but it hasn’t gotten to Cumberland yet.”

Between 2006 and 2008, Frederick households had a median income of nearly $80,000, far above the Maryland average of $70,000.

Garrett and Allegany households earned $45,000 and $37,000, respectively. In addition, the Census Bureau reports, about 13 percent of Allegany and Garrett County residents lived below the poverty line.

Development through local green industries could prove a solution to the woes of other western counties, said Andy Moser, assistant secretary at the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. The problem, he said, is that the area is caught in transition.

“Western Maryland was home to a lot of manufacturing,” Moser said. “A lot of these manufacturers have pretty much moved out of that area.” The westernmost counties remain at a disadvantage simply “because they’re farther removed from population centers and major employers.”

But the area’s rural character could also be an asset: Allegany’s and Garrett’s open country lends itself to green technology, such as wind energy.

Moser is optimistic that Western Maryland’s former employers “will be replaced in the future by other ones, but we just haven’t seen it yet.”

So far, it seems the western counties lack incentives to make their residents stay. Garrett County saw a 6 percent population growth during the 1990s, which turned into a net loss after 2000. Allegany County has lost more than 3 percent of its population since 2000.

David Nedved, an economic development representative with the Allegany County government, thinks green technology could be a viable strategy for pulling people and jobs into his county, saying the government has discussed establishing a wind turbine plant in the area.

He also said he hopes Allegany’s low cost of living will continue to lure people away from the urban centers as economic recovery trickles down.

“We are seeing people moving into this area from the more urban areas down state,” Nedved said. “The trouble is we’re in the middle of this huge recession.” In Garrett County, natural resources are key to a local economy based heavily on the hospitality industry, according to Frank Shap, a development specialist with the county.

Over the years, Garrett’s economy was bolstered by second-home owners and retirees attracted by the county’s natural beauty, but the recession has diminished this source of income, said Michael Bello, owner of a photography business in McHenry. “Home building and everything right now is down in Garrett County, like it is everywhere,” Bello said. “That certainly affects everybody’s business. Even the visitors, while they’re still coming, are not spending as much while they’re here.”

As a result, Garrett has worked to diversify its economic portfolio to include specialty manufacturing and green technology. Down the road, Shap hopes, the county’s experience with natural resource extraction will attract the biofuel industry.

Meanwhile, Garrett is investing in its future, Shap said, by providing incentives for the next generation of local workers to stay. Among other things, the county created a special scholarship program at Garrett College that covers tuition and fees for recent Garrett County high school graduates.

“We cannot rely on hospitality alone,” Shap said. “Work force skill development is very important for us to keep our economic growth.”

If you are thinking of buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, call Jay Ferguson of Long & Foster Real Estate for all of your real estate needs! 877-563-5350

Budget cuts, taxes concerns for Garrett County residents

Budget cuts, taxes concerns for Garrett County residents

Kevin Spradlin
Cumberland Times-News

MCHENRY —­ Don’t mind Joyce Bishoff if she is a bit perplexed.

During a November tourism conference in Ocean City, the interim president of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce heard Gov. Martin O’Malley state that tourism is the only industry in the state that is showing a return on government’s investment.

Why, then, Bishoff asked Sen. George Edwards and Delegate Wendell Beitzel, would the state Office of Tourism slash Garrett County’s appropriation by 40 percent?

Bishoff said state tourism officials have signaled to her that the remaining 60 percent soon could be unavailable.

“This is causing some severe pains through the tourism industry,” Bishoff asked on Wednesday during the legislative delegation’s pre-legisative session at Garrett College. The two-hour event was coordinated by the local League of Women Voters chapter. Twelve speakers at the meeting discussed a wide range of topics, including tourism, wind turbines, natural gas, emergency services and funding for public education.

Bishoff said a request to the delegation by the Garrett County commissioners to introduce legislation that could lead to an increase in the accommodation tax, which would impact all hotels and beds-and-breakfasts in the county. The commissioners want the ability to increase the tax to up to 8 percent from the current 5 percent rate.

“We will continue our dialogue with the county commissioners as to our reservations,” Bishoff said. “We’re very concerned about raising any taxes. With so many areas of our economy in crisis, I think we need to do what we can do to encourage people to come here and spend their dollars from the city.”

James R. “Smokey” Stanton, chairman of the Garrett County Democratic Central Committee, asked the legislators to reject the commissioners’ request.

Stanton, who is expected to run for the District 1A delegation seat currently occupied by Beitzel, called it “a bad bill” and that area businesses depend on tourism. If rates were to go up, consumers would have a choice of other places such as Ocean City. Stanton said if such a bill is introduced, funds raised from that legislation should not be earmarked for a specific purpose.

“I would suggest that is a really bad idea,” Stanton said.

Representatives of Garrett County vacation rental agencies expressed their displeasure at the proposed legislation during the commissioners’ public meeting with the delegation in Oakland on Nov. 17. Wendy Yoder, county director of finance, said an increase of 1 percent could generate about $300,000 in new revenue.

Edwards said either bill would only permit the county commissioners to consider passing such a rate increase. It would not require them to do so “if they didn’t want to,” Edwards said. Most of the issues discussed during the public forum regarded state and local budgets. Beitzel said some economists have said the current crisis is the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression. But one key Garrett County industry — coal mining — is at risk despite its economic benefits, Beitzel said.

“I know there’s been a big effort to stop mountaintop removal of coal,” Beitzel said. “We don’t do that in Western Maryland (but) it turns out it may actually apply to all mountaintop mining. Coal has become a dirty, four-letter word, and we really need to fight and defend that industry here in Western Maryland.”

James M. Raley, member of the Garrett County Board of Education, said at the board’s meeting Tuesday, members learned that the board is looking at a decrease in funding from either the state or the county — or possibly both.

Next year, Raley said, the board is looking at a $2 million deficit, and there’s concern that there will be a push in Annapolis to shift the burden of funding teachers’ pensions to county governments. Currently, it is a state responsibility.

“That just compounds (the county’s) problem in regards to funding public education,” Raley said.

Garrett County Commissioner Fred Holliday shared Raley’s concern.

“There is no way we could eat it,” Holliday said. “We’d have to raise taxes. Then the commissioners are the bad guys.”

If you are thinking of buying or selling real estate in Garrett County or Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, call Jay Ferguson of Long & Foster Real Estate for all of your real estate needs! 877-563-5350