Funding Plans For Garrett County Scholarship Program To Continue

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The Board of Garrett County Commissioners continues to receive commentary that the Garrett County Scholarship Program will not be funded for future years.
“Statements related to a termination of this program are untrue and unsubstantiated,” a press release from the commissioners stated. “The board strongly believes that funding of this program that allows all Garrett County public school seniors to attend Garrett College at no cost will have many constructive and positive long-term consequences for not only the students who participate in the program but all of Garrett County.”

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Crellin Elementary Teacher Awarded State Environmental Educator Of The Year

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Crellin Elem. Teacher Awarded State Environmental Educator Of The Year

Feb. 11, 2010

Crellin Elementary School teacher Rebecca Sanders was recently named the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s 2010 Environmental Educator of the Year. This award is given to honor outstanding environmental stewards who have made exceptional contributions to improve the health of the environment and the Chesapeake Bay.
“Our work is supported by over 400,000 Marylanders who contribute annually to the trust’s work as a grant-maker either by making donations through the “Treasure the Chesapeake” license plate program and the state’s income tax
check-off program for the bay, or by participating in a funded project,” said Allen Hance, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

Each year, the trust recognizes an educator and a student for their work to support the environment and the Chesapeake Bay. Students and teachers from across the state submit applications for the $5,000 awards.

The trust was joined by Lt. Governor Anthony Brown earlier this month to announce Sanders as the winner of its 2010 award. “Selected from a talented pool of nominees, this educator teaches about the bay and the broader watershed through science classes and other parts of the curriculum; uses school grounds and local natural areas to enrich classroom experiences; and motivates and inspires students by promoting environmental awareness throughout the school and the broader community,” noted Hance.

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Board of Education Exploring Ways To Cut Its Budget

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BOE Exploring Possible Ways To Cut Its Budget

Feb. 11, 2010

The Board of Education recently held its regular monthly meeting, at which members discussed several ways of cutting back on budget needs. The board’s financial director, Irvin Fink, and school superintendent Dr. Wendell Teets are in the process of finalizing the FY2011 budget.
One of the proposed ideas to help cut costs is the renovation of some area elementary schools, and the possible closing of others. There are currently seven elementary schools – Broad Ford, Yough Glades, Dennett Road, Bloomington, Rt. 40, Crellin, and Accident. It was decided at the meeting that there will be a committee formed to study all seven schools, with the committee made up of members of the public as well as school officials.

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Towns Reeling After 90% Slash In State Highway Users Revenue

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Feb. 11, 2010

by Don Sincell

While local residents are accustomed to coping with severe winter weather conditions, the two recent storms that have pushed the county’s total snowfall for the winter of 2009-10 to over 180 inches could not have come at a worse time, particularly for Garrett County’s eight incorporated municipalities.

Attempting to remove nearly two feet of snow from municipal roadways is expensive under the best of circumstances, and even more so when storms strike on weekends, which generally necessitates overtime for town crews. That hardship became much worse this winter because of recent major cuts in state aid to the towns.

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FirstEnergy buying rival Allegheny Energy

FirstEnergy buying rival Allegheny Energy

Mark Williams
Associated Press

FirstEnergy said Thursday that it is buying Allegheny Energy in a $4.7 billion stock deal that will bring together two neighboring rivals to form one of the biggest power companies in the country.

The new company will be made up of 10 utilities serving 6.1 million customers from Ohio to New Jersey, with $16 billion in annual revenue and $1.4 billion in profit. The deal is expected to close within 14 months.

“It’s a natural fit that has the potential to produce lower risk, higher growth, a cleaner generation fleet, a stronger balance sheet, and increased earnings,” Anthony Alexander, FirstEnergy’s president and CEO, told analysts on a conference call.

There haven’t been many big deals in the power sector recently. The recession has made financing difficult to get and electricity demand has slumped, especially among industrial customers. That has forced utilities to slash costs and cut projects.

Gaining approvals for mergers from state regulators has been difficult as well. The First Energy-Allegheny deal must be approved by regulators in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia as well as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Shareholders of Allegheny, based in Greensburg, Pa., will receive 0.667 shares of FirstEnergy common stock in exchange for each share they own. That equals $27.65 based on Wednesday’s closing price, and represents a 32 percent premium over Allegheny’s closing price of $21.02 on Wednesday.

FirstEnergy also will assume $3.8 billion in debt.

Analysts say the combination of First Energy and Allegheny will cut costs and the combined company should benefit from a recovering economy. Deutsche Bank’s Jonathan Arnold cautioned investors that it has been tough to close utility deals. He said the companies may be a good fit, but there has been no discussion about concessions for utility customers, a critical factor in getting state regulatory approvals.

The deal comes as Congress and federal regulators consider caps on emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants, along with tighter regulations on other sources of pollution.

The companies said 80 percent of their combined generation will come from highly efficient coal plants and nuclear power. Arnold noted that Allegheny has improved its coal-fired plants, mitigating the environmental risk they pose.

“Whatever we face down the road from a carbon standpoint we will be better positioned given the size and character of the combined fleet than we would have been, than either one of us would have been stand-alone,” First Energy’s Alexander said.

The combination brings together FirstEnergy’s 4.5 million customers operating under such names as Ohio Edison, Cleveland Electric Illuminating and Jersey Central Power and Light with Allegheny’s 1.6 million customers that receive electricity from such utilities as Allegheny Power and Potomac Edison. The company will become the largest utility in Pennsylvania with 2 million customers.

Alexander will remain the top executive of the combined company, which will be based at FirstEnergy’s headquarters in Akron, Ohio. Allegheny’s top executive, Paul Evanson, will become executive vice chairman and report to Alexander.

FirstEnergy also on Thursday reported profit of $238 million, or 78 cents per share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31 compared with profit of $332 million, or $1.09 per share, in the year-ago quarter.

Revenue fell to $3 billion for the quarter from $3.2 billion a year ago.

For the year, FirstEnergy reported profit of $1 billion, or $3.29 per share, compared with $1.3 billion, or $4.38 per share, in 2008. Revenue fell to $13 billion from $13.6 billion in 2008.

Allegheny shares jumped $2.53, or 12 percent, to close at $23.55 in Thursday trading. FirstEnergy shares fell $1.87, or 4.5 percent, to close at $39.59.

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

Fourth Quarter Existing-Home Sales Surge in Most States, Prices Up in More Areas

Fourth Quarter Existing-Home Sales Surge in Most States, Prices Up in More Areas
WASHINGTON , February 11, 2010

Strong gains in existing-home sales were the predominant pattern in most states during the fourth quarter, with many more metro areas seeing prices rise from a year earlier, according to the latest survey by the National Association of Realtors ® .

Sales increased from the third quarter in 48 states and the District of Columbia; 32 states saw double-digit gains. Year-over-year sales were higher in 49 states and D.C.; all but three states had double-digit annual increases.

Total state existing-home sales, including single-family and condo, jumped 13.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate 1 of 6.03 million in the fourth quarter from 5.29 million in the third quarter, and are 27.2 percent above the 4.74 million-unit level in the fourth quarter of 2008. Distressed property accounted for 32 percent of fourth quarter transactions, down from 37 percent a year earlier.

Lawrence Yun , NAR chief economist, said the first-time home buyer tax credit was the dominant factor. “The surge in home sales was driven by buyers responding strongly to the tax credit combined with record low mortgage interest rates,” he said. “With inventory levels trending down over the past 18 months, we expect broadly balanced housing market conditions in much of the country by late spring with more areas showing higher prices.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate on a 30-year conventional fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 4.92 percent in the fourth quarter from 5.16 percent in the third quarter; it was 5.86 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008.

In the fourth quarter, 67 out of 151 metropolitan statistical areas 2 reported higher median existing single-family home prices in comparison with the fourth quarter of 2008, including 16 with double-digit increases; one was unchanged and 84 metros had price declines. In the third quarter only 30 MSAs showed annual price increases and 123 areas were down.

The national median existing single-family price was $172,900, which is 4.1 percent below the fourth quarter of 2008; the median is where half sold for more and half sold for less. “This is the smallest price decline in over two years, with the most recent monthly data showing a broad stabilization in home prices,” Yun said.

“Because buyers are taking on long-term fixed rate mortgages, avoiding adjustable-rate products, and trying to stay well within their budgets, the price recovery process appears durable,” Yun said.

NAR President Vicki Cox Golder , owner of Vicki L. Cox & Associates in Tucson, Ariz., said near-term market conditions will remain favorable. “Mortgage interest rates are expected to trend up later this year, but right now we have very good conditions with steadying home prices and favorable inventory in most areas, especially in the higher price ranges,” she said.

“The biggest issue is for repeat buyers, who will have to accelerate their buying plans if they want the expanded tax credit. Since you must have a contract in place by the end of April, the best advice is to consult a Realtor ® now about qualification criteria and options in your area,” Golder said.

Repeat buyers do not have to sell their existing home, but all buyers must occupy the property they purchase as a primary residence to qualify for the tax credit. Buyers who have a contract in place by April 30, 2010, have until June 30, 2010, to finalize the transaction to get a credit of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers and $6,500 for repeat buyers.

In the condo sector, metro area condominium and cooperative prices – covering changes in 54 metro areas – showed the national median existing-condo price was $177,300 in the fourth quarter, down 4.8 percent from the fourth quarter of 2008. Eleven metros showed increases in the median condo price from a year earlier and 43 areas had declines; in the third quarter only four metros experienced annual price gains.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 11.1 percent in the fourth quarter to a pace of 1.03 million and are 33.6 percent higher than a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the Northeast declined 5.6 percent to $234,900 in the fourth quarter from the same quarter in 2008, but with widely varying conditions.

“In the Northeast, markets with lower median prices that have avoided wide swings, such as Buffalo, are generally showing consistent price gains,” Yun said. “Even so, some of the higher cost areas are showing signs of stabilization, such as Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y., and Boston.”

In the Midwest, existing-home sales jumped 14.5 percent in the fourth quarter to a pace of 1.38 million and are 29.9 percent above a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the Midwest rose 1.1 percent to $141,100 in the fourth quarter from the same period in 2008, with the region accounting for the majority of metro areas experiencing double-digit gains.

Yun said markets with high unemployment rates in Ohio and Michigan experienced large price swings. “Big price gains in many Midwestern areas are due to a more normal range of home sales in contrast with predominately foreclosed sales a year ago,” he said.

In the South, existing-home sales rose 13.8 percent in the fourth quarter to an annual rate of 2.23 million and are 28.2 percent higher than the fourth quarter of 2008. The median existing single-family home price in the South was $153,000 in the fourth quarter, down 2.4 percent from a year earlier.

“Affordable markets in the South that have relatively better local economies are seeing healthy price gains, such as Houston, Oklahoma City and Shreveport, La.,” Yun said.

Existing-home sales in the West jumped 16.2 percent in the fourth quarter to an annual rate of 1.38 million and are 18.2 percent above a year ago. The median existing single-family home price in the West was $227,200 in the fourth quarter, which is 8.9 percent below the fourth quarter of 2008, but with many areas showing notable gains.

“Markets in the West such as San Francisco, San Jose and Denver are showing double-digit price increases, and other markets like San Diego and Anaheim have begun to firm up,” Yun said.

The National Association of Realtors ® , “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.2 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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

North/South highway earns support of Cardin

North/South highway earns support of Cardin

Kevin Spradlin
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — A meeting cancellation in Washington of local officials advocating for the North/South Appalachian Highway project didn’t stop the effort from getting a progressive bump forward.

During a Senate committee hearing Tuesday on President Barack Obama’s nomination of Earl Gohl Jr. as Appalachian Regional Commission co-chair, Sen. Ben Cardin called upon Gohl to make the project a priority.

Cardin also asked Gohl to support removing the prohibition on the state’s use of toll credits as matching funds for the Appalachian Highway project, which includes U.S. Route 219 from Interstate 68 to Meyersdale, Pa., and U.S. Route 220 from Bedford, Pa., to Corridor H in West Virginia.

The ARC is a federal-state partnership that helps fund sustainable community and economic development projects in a 13-state area from New York to Mississippi, including all of West Virginia and parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Forty-two percent of the region’s population is rural compared with 20 percent of the national population. Eighty-two of the region’s 420 counties are designated as economically distressed jurisdictions.

The goal of the ARC, established by an act of Congress in 1965, is to help the region achieve economic parity with the nation. Cardin’s words, said local stakeholder David Moe of the Garrett County Development Corp., are a major step in the right direction.

“It’s great stuff,” said Moe, also a member of The Greater Cumberland Committee, a multistate organization that has recently served as lead advocate for the highway projects. “Mr. Cardin is a great asset for Western Maryland. We’ve been privileged to work with him on this project and other items for Mountain Maryland. Without him, none of this would have been possible.

“It’s recognition at the top level of the problems with the toll credits issue, which can be resolved when the federal transportation reauthorization gets considered in the Senate,” Moe said. “The momentum is building.”

That could happen this year. The bill, which expired Sept. 30, has received short-term extensions. But within Obama’s jobs creation bill is the reauthorization — and with it could come resolution of the toll credits issue.

“If it is removed, Pennsylvania will be able to continue the construction of the (U.S.) 219 section from Somerset, Pa., to Meyersdale,” Moe said, “in addition to picking up the environmental studies on the 219 section from I-68 near Grantsville to the Meyersdale, Pa., bypass.”

Moe called both projects “integral to the development of the entire north-south Appalachian Corridor.”

Moe said Gohl, who has more than 20 years’ experience as an elected and appointed official in Pennsylvania, should be familiar with the struggles faced.

The meeting scheduled for Wednesday with members of the House of Representatives will be rescheduled, Moe said. Meanwhile, several congressional representatives have indicated their support for the project and for the removal of the toll credits prohibition. Already on board are Pennsylvania Congressmen Bill Shuster and Christopher Carney, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in Maryland and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore-Capito in West Virginia.

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 reconsidering policy allowing students to go to school in Allegany

Board also expects to take up futures of 7 southern elementary facilities

Megan Miller
Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — A few major changes could be coming for Garrett County public schools, as the board of education considers ways to cut spending in the face of state funding reductions.

About 40 students take advantage of a policy that allows Garrett children living in specific parts of the county to attend school across the county line at nearby Allegany facilities, rather than travel farther from home to Garrett schools.

Board member James Raley said the policy has been in place since the consolidated Northern Garrett High School was built in the 1950s, to spare students in northeastern parts of the county from long commutes in the days before Interstate 68 was built.

But Superintendent Wendell Teets said the school board is considering changing the policy because declining enrollment and other factors have reduced the school system’s state funding, leaving the system to wrestle with a significant budget shortfall.

“We pay tuition and provide transportation for those students to go to Allegany County schools,” Teets said. “Ultimately, by changing this policy, we would eliminate the busing expenses, the payments to Allegany, and gain state aid by keeping those students in Garrett schools. So that’s a significant amount of funding.”

The proposed change would still allow students in grades six and above who already attend Allegany schools to continue through graduation. It would also allow their younger siblings to attend an Allegany school if they’d be in the same building as the older sibling. New students who move into Garrett County would not be eligible to attend an Allegany school, regardless of their grade level.

On March 2, the board will hold a 7 p.m. meeting at Northern Middle School in Accident to hear input from the public on the change. Teets said he expects that to be the only such meeting held before the board makes its final decision on the policy change.

In the coming months, the board will also consider the futures of seven elementary schools in the southern part of the county. Changes there could mean renovations for some schools and closures for others.

“We need to take a hard look at our budget, enrollment and facility capacities and make some decisions on the most effective use of our resources,” Teets said.

A committee will be formed to study all seven schools, the board decided in its Monday meeting. Teets said the board will make a final decision on the committee formation in March, but it will probably include members of the public as well as school officials. The committee’s study will likely go on for several months.

“The study committee will take an objective look at what’s happening and make recommendations,” Teets said. Any changes suggested by the study committee would then be studied by another committee at each individual school.

“In these hard economic times we have to look at programs to support schools in our county,” Teets said. “And we need to protect our programs in Garrett County.”

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

Mountain Marylanders back governor’s plan for state trail network

Kevin Spradlin
Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — The mountain side of Maryland and those living closer to metropolitan centers can at least agree on one thing — there is value when investing in local trail systems.

With many legislative initiatives, there often is a split on what is good for one part of the state and what is good for Mountain Maryland.

This time, “I think the two sides do agree,” said Bill Atkinson on Friday, two days after Gov. Martin O’Malley announced the state’s first Maryland Trails: A Greener Way To Go plan.

The development of the plan was spearheaded by the state Department of Transportation. It focuses on a long-term projection of how a seamless trail network throughout the state can increase commuter options. Atkinson works for the Maryland Department of Planning and is a local representative for the Pennsylvania-based Trail Towns Program. He also is appointed as an advisory member to the Garrett Trails organization by the Garrett County commissioners.

Atkinson said the annual PACE reception in Annapolis about a week ago, where both Garrett Trails and the Allegany County-based Mountain Maryland Trails organization collaborated on a booth to showcase their positive economic impact, was “the first time we really joined forces.”

“We received a lot of interest at PACE with the combined booth,” said Mike Dreisbach, Mountain Maryland Trails president. “It looks like MMT and Garrett Trails can help the governor add about another 200 miles to make it 1,000 miles in Maryland.”

Atkinson, an avid bicyclist, said people already are using portions of the 20.47-mile Great Allegheny Passage in Allegany County as a commuting option on good-weather days. The gradual decline from Frostburg east to Cumberland provides an easy ride to work, he said.

“We found that to be one of those sidebars to the trail experience,” Atkinson said. “It’s easy to get to work that way. It’s recreation, it’s transportation and it’s economic development.”

State officials appear eager to agree.

“Working together, we can create a great transportation trails network that takes residents to where they need to go by bicycle or foot without ever having to get into their cars,” said Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley in a news release.

Atkinson said a key goal of local stakeholders is to connect the Great Allegheny Passage to Garrett County — possibly from Penn Alps Restaurant in Grantsville to the GAP in Meyersdale, Pa., by way of the Casselman River railroad. Another top priority is to connect the Great Allegheny Passage to the Georges Creek communities along state Route 36, into West Virginia then back in Maryland in Kitzmiller.

“You know, the longer we can get the person to stay in the area, the better it is for Western Maryland,” Atkinson said. “This is a regional concept of trails.”

Atkinson said there is a chance that the towns of Lonaconing, Barton and Midland can all connect to the existing railroad bed before it fully connects to Frostburg and the Great Allegheny Passage.

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

With upcoming snow, Garrett hoping for federal money

Megan Miller
Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — The snowstorm that began in Western Maryland on Tuesday afternoon could last through early Friday and pelt the region with as much as 15 to 20 inches of snow in the higher elevations.

That’s according to Pittsburgh National Weather Service meteorologist Rich Kane, who briefed the Garrett County Commission and other officials via telephone and video feed Tuesday morning.

“I think for Garrett County it’s going to be pretty wintry even through early Friday,” said Kane, who predicted accumulations of 14 to 20 inches by the end of the storm.

Kane said Garrett could also see high winds around 20 mph Wednesday and 30 mph Thursday, which could cause problems with drifting snow.

That’s bad news for roads maintenance crews and emergency services personnel, who put in long hours and spent large chunks of their budgets dealing with the weekend storm that dropped up to 40 inches on the county.

The weekend storm cost the county about $50,000 per day in overtime, equipment and materials costs, according to Roads General Superintendent Jay Moyer.

“As of Jan. 30, we had about $21,500 left in the budget to cover overtime,” Moyer said. “That’s gone now.”

Under the county’s snow emergency plan, several fire stations are put on standby to provide shelter if needed, and winter rescue teams from several agencies are alerted to be ready to assist residents. Anyone in need of shelter can call (301) 334-1930 to request help. Public safety officials also ask that residents make sure to keep their furnace vents uncovered for safety, keep an eye on snow loads on their rooftops and check on their neighbors.

Both the county and Maryland declared a state of emergency in the weekend storm, and some Garrett officials believe more snow could mean the county will receive a federal emergency declaration.

A federal declaration would channel federal dollars into the county that could be used to reimburse county services for extra costs incurred dealing with the storm. Overtime and equipment costs for snow removal efforts, public utilities work and emergency services like police, fire and emergency medical services could all be reimbursed for amounts spent over their normal operating costs, explained Garrett County Emergency Management Director Brad Frantz.

But there are a lot of variables involved in receiving federal emergency aid. For example, new regulations put in place in recent years state that snow storm accumulations must be within 10 percent of a county’s record snowfall for the county to qualify, Frantz said. For Garrett, that means a snowstorm needs to drop about 45 inches in one event.

The forecast for Tuesday’s storm called for far less than that, but it could still push the county over the threshold if both the Tuesday and weekend storm are counted as one event, Frantz explained.

“We don’t yet know for sure if that will happen,” Frantz said. “But there’s a chance they may call this one event, since they’ve extended the state of emergency from the weekend through the beginning of the week.”

Allegany County, too, might come near its qualifying threshold if the storms are considered one event, said Dick DeVore, acting chief of the Allegany County Joint Communications Center. But he emphasized that there’s no way for the county to be certain about that.

“We believe that potentially we’re going to be close to that threshold,” DeVore said. “But ultimately, it depends on what data the National Weather Service uses to calculate snowfall in the county. And there are a lot of other moving parts.”

If either county receives a federal emergency declaration, the other would be eligible for aid as an adjoining county, Frantz said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the National Weather Service had issued a winter storm warning in effect through late Wednesday afternoon for Allegany County. The forecast predicted accumulations of 6 to 12 inches in eastern and central Allegany County, and a possibility of up to 20 inches in the western areas.

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