School closures, wind power issues in District 2
— OAKLAND — Garrett County residents probably won’t have to wait for November to find out the identity of one of their county commissioners for the next 4-year term.
The race for the District 2 seat on the commission could be decided in the Sept. 14 primary election, with just two Republican candidates vying for the spot.
Jim Raley, now in his fourth consecutive term on the county Board of Education, is running for the seat against incumbent 12-year veteran Fred Holliday.
Since there is no Democratic candidate, the Democratic Central Committee has the option to nominate one after the primary to put on the general election ballot. The committee would have to do so by Oct. 4.
Raley has campaigned for several months from his spot on the Board of Education, taking a strong position against the possibility of closing some county elementary schools. He has repeatedly questioned the school system’s spending priorities in its own budget, and also called on the county government to help the school system make up its budget shortfall.
“If the county is not willing to help make up some of that, the school system is going to be in dire straits and have to make drastic decisions,” he said.
Holliday argued that the county has been “very fair” with its funding of the school system, and said all agencies are dealing with tight budgets in the current economic climate.
“In the past 10 years we have more than doubled our appropriation to the school board, even though they had a declining student population,” he said. “We still have exceeded the maintenance of effort every year, and some years we went considerably overboard on it.”
On another major issue, the development of two wind power facilities atop Backbone Mountain, Holliday has been a supporter, while Raley is skeptical of claims that the wind industry will significantly benefit the county.
“I think that wind power is a quick fix to some budget concerns,” Raley said, acknowledging that the county receives some economic benefit in the form of short-term construction jobs, a small number of permanent jobs and tax income.
But he said there are also problems with the economics of wind energy. Projects, he said, are heavily subsidized by government dollars, and turbine components and other parts of wind power facilties are often manufactured and imported from outside the U.S.
“I’m not a big fan of these partnerships where public dollars are used to fund these types of projects,” he said. “While we have some short-term economic benefit, I don’t think we’ll see a longterm economic benefit.”
Holliday, who has been a commissioner throughout the early phases of both projects’ development, said he doesn’t want to see turbines on every ridge top. But he defended the wind facilities as a way to produce cleaner energy and supplement the county budget through taxes on the facilities.
He pointed out that the projects have already brought some peripheral benefit to county businesses, with employees patronizing restaurants, grocery stores and hotels, and the companies purchasing several trucks at local automobile dealerships.
Holliday said he was surprised that some people opposed the wind projects, because “green energy is what we need to look to.”
“When they’re completed there will be six to eight good-paying jobs,” he said. “And we’ll have energy.”