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Delegation plans public meetings

Matthew Bieniek

Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — Members of the legislature representing Allegany and Garrett counties in the General Assembly say their yearly meetings to hear constituent issues and concerns are important as they plan for the 2014 session in Annapolis. That session is expected to run from Jan. 8 to April 7, according to the legislative calendar.

“It’s important because it gives you the opportunity to meet face-to-face with your constituents. That’s the best form of communication,” said Sen. George Edwards. A fellow member of the delegation agreed.

“This is an obligation as representatives of the people … that’s our job. And I enjoy meeting with the public,” said Delegate Kevin Kelly. Edwards said it gives legislators an opportunity to hear what’s on people’s minds. Occasionally, representatives don’t know all of the concerns of citizens, Edwards said. Taxes are usually a recurring theme, and the delegation agrees with many citizens. Taxes are too high, delegation members said. Edwards and Kelly also said concerns about gun control laws passed during the 2013 session may be an issue.

The District 1 delegation includes Edwards and Kelly and Delegates Wendell Beitzel and LeRoy Myers Jr.

Beitzel said the meetings with citizens and county commissioners help legislators clarify their agenda for the upcoming session.

“The people can let us hear their views on issues likely to come up. They can also tell us what we should be opposing,” Beitzel said.

Meetings for public participation are planned in Allegany and Garrett counties. The Allegany County meeting is set for Dec. 9 at 7 p.m at the Allegany College of Maryland auditorium. The Garrett County public meeting is set for Dec. 19 at the Garrett College Continuing Education Building at 7 p.m. The Garrett County meeting will be attended by Edwards and Beitzel, who represent Garrett County.

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Garrett County cannot provide funding necessary to prevent school closings

Elaine Blaisdell

Cumberland Times-News

FINZEL — An accountant confirmed that Garrett County doesn’t have $2.2 million to help the school system when County Commissioner Jim Raley met with concerned citizens at the Finzel Fire Hall on Thursday about the proposed closing of Route 40 Elementary and two other schools.

The county doesn’t have $2.2 million this year and won’t have it in the future, according to Jeff Conner of Fike, Conner & Associates CPAs, who looked at the county’s financials.

“We are going to have to dip into our coffers. We do have some rainy day funds but it’s only going to buy us a couple years,” said Conner.

One citizen asked how commission chairman Robert Gatto came up with $2.2 million that he motioned to give to the board of education to close the funding gap during a commission meeting Tuesday and asked if that money was part of the county’s maintenance of effort.

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County asked to take over roads near Wisp

Bankruptcy may force closure

Elaine Blaisdell

Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — The Garrett County commissioners have agreed to set up a meeting as soon as possible with D.C. Development, the former owner of Wisp Resort, and EPT Ski Properties, current owner, to discuss ownership of Wisp Mountain Road and Overlook Pass.

The roads will be abandoned once D.C. Development bankruptcy proceedings are complete. Klaus Schmidt, a board member of Kendall Camp Property Owner’s Association, asked the county to take over ownership of the roads and asked that the association be given a seat at the meeting.

County commission chairman Robert Gatto indicated that he would bring up the issue before the county’s Traffic Advisory Committee.

“We will work to expedite a response and to facilitate a resolution,” said Commissioner Gregan Crawford.

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Educators, citizens offer ideas to close funding gap

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — Educators and citizens in attendance at the county commission meeting Tuesday suggested a variety of solutions to help close some of the $2.2 million funding gap that the Garrett County Board of Education is facing.

Mike Robison, a concerned citizen, suggested that the commissioners commit to $2.2 million for the next three years until the wealth formula changes.

“I believe in my heart that the $2.2 million will stop it (school closures) and I believe if not then we can hold the board accountable to that. If it (wealth formula) doesn’t change, then we close schools,” said Robison. “I’d like you to stand up and say either we have the money or don’t have the money.”

Robison said that he would like the commissioners to commit to doing whatever it takes to keep the schools open.

Both Superintendent of Schools Janet Wilson and board president Cynthia Downton agreed that closing schools isn’t pleasant but that it needs to be done. Last year, Dennett Road and Kitzmiller elementary schools closed as a cost-cutting measure.

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Garrett officials hope state comes through with money to help keep schools open

Friendsville, Route 40, Crellin at risk of closure

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — Garrett County Commission Chairman Robert Gatto, who serves as an ex-officio member on the board of education, made a motion at Tuesday’s commission meeting to designate $2.2 million to the board for fiscal 2015 with the amount to be reduced if funding is secured from the state. The motion died for lack of a second.

Gatto made the motion after numerous educators and residents pleaded that the commission provide a funding number.

“I came here tonight thinking we were going to get a number,” said board president Cynthia Downton.

Commissioner Jim Raley indicated that he would like to provide the board with a funding number Dec. 17.

“I’m concerned that we are going to walk out of this room tonight without some form of solution. I can tell you the board of commissioners is not prepared to give some kind of a number because I’m not sure what that number needs to be,” said Raley.

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Garrett County may close 3 schools

Crellin, Friendsville, Route 40 elementaries fall victim to budget deficit

From Staff Reports Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — Garrett County Public Schools is proceeding with the school closure process for Crellin, Friendsville and Route 40 elementary schools, according to a news release provided by Janet Wilson, superintendent of county schools.

The school system is facing an estimated $2.2 million deficit for the 2014–2015 school year, resulting in the decision to proceed with the school closure process.

At last week’s board of education meeting, the board released information concerning the elementary school facility needs assessment and master plan study for its public schools.

The $61,680 study recommended closing two schools in the northern end of the county and one school in the southern end and reconfiguring all grades in the northern schools and adjusting school boundary lines.

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State superintendent visits Garrett County schools

Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery visited Garrett County Public Schools on Friday.

Accompanied by Janet Wilson, county superintendent of schools, she visited the following schools: Friendsville Elementary, Crellin Elementary, Hickory Educational Environmental Center and Route 40 Elementary.

At Friendsville Elementary, Lowery was received by students who displayed their artwork from Melinda Bishoff’s art class and Mayor Spencer Schlosnagle. She toured the facility, visited classrooms, greeted students and staff and met with teachers regarding the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

At Crellin Elementary School, Lowery visited classrooms and observed a demonstration of Polycom, an Internet/video system, by Linda Stephens’ fourth-grade classroom. The students talked to college professors and students at Glenville State College about their research and engagement in collaborative field trips and lessons. Lowery also toured the outside science areas around the school, including Sunshine Farm and nature study area.

Lowery later toured the Hickory Educational Environmental Center, had lunch with members of the board of education and visited Route 40 School before returning to Baltimore.

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At public hearing, majority backs Fair Wind project

Opposition group claims turbines adversely affecting Garrett County

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

MCHENRY — A majority of residents spoke in favor of the Fair Wind project during a Maryland Public Service Commission hearing on Thursday at Garrett College. Residents noted that the county is in dire need of the revenue that the project would generate.

“We need the revenue for the school systems for the county. Why the county commissioners aren’t here in support of it for the revenue, I don’t know,” said George Scheffel. “One thing I do know is that we are in dire need of the money.”

“We feel this project will be a great success,” said Steven Friend, who was speaking on behalf of his mother, Wilma J. Friend. “They will create green energy with needed jobs and financial help to Garrett County, the state of Maryland, local businesses and royalties to the landowners.”

The Roth Rock and Criterion projects paid more than $2 million in taxes last year to the county, according to Friend.

“With additional revenue from them and the Fair Wind project we may even be able to keep the three county schools that they are considering closing open. We ask that the Fair Wind project be approved and be built as soon as possible,” said Friend, who owns land where the 12 wind turbines would be located.

Eric Robison of Save Western Maryland disagreed with Friend, noting that other wind projects have affected the county’s wealth formula.

“When these other two projects came in, they ended up ultimately changing our wealth formula for how we receive funding from the state in regard to association with our tax base. This increased our tax base,” said Robison.

The wealth formula, coupled with a declining enrollment, led to a $2.2 million budget gap that could lead to the closing of three schools. The county was rated the ninth wealthiest county in the state and, when the projects came online, it moved up to the fifth wealthiest, according to Robison.

“Having additional projects, especially in a time like this, would only exasberate that and actually move us beyond that five to four or three. At least five (wind) projects are in consideration for Garrett County.”

The project would create 100 to 125 temporary construction jobs, according to Matt Brewer, managing partner of Bennett, Brewer & Associates in Frostburg, which is the engineer of record for the project.

“Our school system is dwindling,” said Scheffel. “It’s dwindling because it is such a big downward ripple effect. If you don’t have more jobs you don’t get more kids to come to the schools; that’s why they are closing them up right now. We don’t want it to continue to happen; we have to find something other than tourism jobs.”

In the first 20 years of operation, the Fair Wind project will generate about $10 million in property tax revenue for the county, according to Brewer. The project, in aggregate with Roth Rock and Criterion projects, will generate about $23 million in property tax revenue in 2020.

Robison asked that the PSC review all documentation submitted for the project.

“I would love to see the PSC go back and review all the documentation that has been submitted and have it verified. I’m for clean energy. I’m for a better way of life. I don’t see that any of this is going to benefit us right now,” said Robison.

Jim Torrington, chief of the Garrett County Permits and Inspections Division, said in a previous interview with the Times-News that last year Fair Wind submitted a concept plan for review but hasn’t come back for a grading permit yet.

“In looking at what the proposed site plan was for this project, currently what was submitted to the county was from Clipper. Clipper has now filed bankruptcy and that project permitting process was purchased by Fair Wind Exelon,” said Robison. “There is no current permit at all. There is nothing that has been approved in association with this.”

A concept plan is the first of three required plan approvals, according to the county’s stormwater ordinance. All plans for the project are expected this winter, according to Torrington. Over the next few months, Fair Wind Power Partners will continue to work with the county to acquire stormwater management and sediment erosion control approvals as well as building and grading permits required to construct the site and electric collection line, said Brewer.

The project is adjacent to areas that are environmentally sensitive but can be built with minimal environmental impact, said Brewer. Various environmental studies as well as bird studies have been done.

Save Western Maryland was the lead organization that filed a lawsuit against Constellation, Criterion and Clipper for not filing for an Incidental Take Permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Robison.

“That federal lawsuit is still ongoing,” said Robison.

The lawsuit was filed because endangered Indiana bats were present on the southern end of the Constellation project, where Fair Wind is also going.

“The Constellation project was required as part of that ITP permitting process to do a one-year study,” said Robison. “After the completion of the study (in 2011), U.S. Fish and Wildlife determined that this project was the deadliest project in North America for avian bats and birds. This (Fair Wind) would be an extension of that.”

Fair Wind Power Partners LLC, a subsidiary of Exelon Generation Co., filed for an application with the PSC for 12 wind turbines along the top of Backbone Mountain, according to Brewer. The project, which would generate 30 megawatts of electricity, is slated to begin in the spring of 2014 and be operational in 2015.

“The site has some of the highest wind speeds in the region,” said Brewer.

Brewer expects to see a determination of no hazard to air navigation soon from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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Hearing set on Garrett County, Md., wind farm proposal by Exelon Corp.’s Fair Wind subsidiary

By Associated Press, Published: November 14

MCHENRY, Md. — The Maryland Public Service Commission is hearing public comments on Exelon Corp.’s plan to place 12 to 15 wind turbines on Backbone Mountain in Garrett County about six miles south of Oakland.

The public hearing Thursday night is at Garrett College in McHenry. The Chicago-based company is pursuing the project through its Fair Wind Power Partners subsidiary.

The 30-megawatt wind farm was originally part of a project proposed by Clipper Windpower Inc. Exelon bought the Fair Wind project from Clipper in February.

Exelon says construction could begin in early 2014, with commercial operation commencing by the end of next year.

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Financial literacy education has real-life impact

Mikhaila Missimer, a 15 year-old sophomore, is saving for a car. So is sophomore Camden Nichols, also 15. He hopes to save enough from a job at a local convenience store to buy a car next year.

The students both cite Bender’s class for helping them attempt to turn their goals into a reality. Her students learn to set “SMART goals,” goals that are “specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.”

Too often, teens have generic savings goals and no plan to achieve them, Bender says. The SMART goal curriculum teaches them to set realistic goals with incremental savings targets to keep themselves on track. It’s an important lesson in learning to take control of one’s finances, Bender says, a lesson that’s catching on across the country.

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