Allegany leaders cooperate

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July 20, 2011

Cumberland Times-News, Matthew Bieniek

Mayors of county convene in public forum, discuss programs

CUMBERLAND— Allegany County and its municipalities have much to gain by working together, the leaders of county municipalities participating in a public forum said Wednesday.

Not every municipal leader participating in the forum at Allegany College of Maryland had always thought that way.

“My attitude over the years has changed greatly,” said Mayor Craig Alexander of Midland. Alexander looked at county government with suspicion and distrust when, as a “young firebrand,” he first got involved in municipal government. But his experience working with the county in responding to the floods of 1996 changed his point of view.

“I (now) look at county government as a trusted ally,” said Alexander, who describes himself as a strong advocate of municipal governments. Several mayors said all it takes is a phone call to county offices when they need help with anything, from a water emergency to a dump truck.

And the biggest benefit of cooperation in providing services could be taxpayers.

Changes in the way services are delivered can save big money, County Administrator David Eberly said. Transferring Section 8 housing from the county and Cumberland to the Human Resources Development Commission in 2009 saves the county about $140,000 and the city about half that amount each year.

County commissioners came up with the idea of a forum to explore cooperation opportunities and invited municipal leaders from each of the county’s municipal governments. Participating in the forum were Alexander; Mayor John Bean of Barton; Mayor Brian Grim of Cumberland; Mayor Bob Flanigan of Frostburg; Mayor Ed Clemons of Luke; Mayor Dan Laffey of Westernport and council member Warren Foote of Lonaconing, who was standing in for Mayor John Coburn. Commission President Michael McKay also participated in the forum, which was moderated by former Cumberland Mayor Lee Fiedler.

Clemons said his city does work closely with neighboring cities like Westernport and Piedmont, W.Va. “Sometimes they have the people and we have the equipment,” he said. That kind of sharing could have potential benefits throughout the county, he said.

“Declining revenue is going to be a way of life for the next few years,” Fiedler said, and finding ways to save money will be important for the county and municipalities.

One idea that seemed especially popular was having the county send both the county and municipal tax bills and then collect the monies. Several communities have already had the county take over that process.

Grim said one of the city’s strengths is the grant writers who have procured about $8 million in grant monies in just a few years. Grim, along with several other mayors, mentioned declining revenues and a weak business climate as challenges.

Unlike the county, Frostburg has grown in the past decade. In 2000, the population was 7,980; now the population is 9,002, said Flanigan. He said the town has excellent relations with the county and Frostburg State University. He said the city’s ambulance service is taxed by 60 calls a week and that the city often relies on help when things get busy.

“Being small, we don’t have a lot of money to do things like blacktopping,” Foote said. He thanked the county for its cooperation over the years.

McKay emphasized that the purpose of the forum was not a takeover of municipalities by the county, but simply to look at potential areas of cooperation and the possible consolidation of some services to save taxpayer money.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .