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More ranking riddles [Editorial]

The Aegis

In the digital/internet age, everything gets commented on and eventually ranked by anyone who has a computer, tablet, smart phone, etc. and is so inclined to weigh in on a particular subject. It’s obviously a great way to get yourself or your product or your company or organization out there on the boundless world wide web.

We recently reported and later editorialized about how a national trade association for the home security system ranked Harford County’s three municipalities among the top safest in Maryland based on FBI uniform crime reporting statistics. Also out within the past few weeks was a ranking of “best places to retire,” which placed Bel Air first in Maryland and in the top 45 nationwide.

SmartAsset.com, a financial planning website for everything from student loans to retirement finances, based its indexed rankings on three factors: state and local taxes – income and sales; the number of doctors offices per 1,000 people, recreation centers per 1,000 people and senior centers per 1,000 people; and the number of seniors in each area as a percentage of population. In ranking first, Bel Air finished ahead of other Maryland cities and towns like Chevy Chase, Ocean City, Chestertown, Annapolis and Rockville.

Bel Air town officials were understandably pleased to learn about the SmartAsset rankings (the website does numerous similar exercises such as “best places to live,” “best places to work”), which gave them an opportunity to brag a little. Mayor Susan Burdette said the number of senior citizens she sees around town confirms that many retired folks have chosen to stay in or move to Bel Air in their golden years.

Such rankings, as we have cautioned in the past, have to be taken with at least a little skepticism, however, and shouldn’t be used as a basis for important decisions about your life, such as where you will live. Certainly, Bel Air has low taxes, relatively speaking if compared to its sister municipalities in Harford County, or in some of the more pricey cities and towns in other Maryland counties, but compared to places in many other states, we would think not.

Bel Air is a pleasant place to live, no question. There are many amenities for folks of all ages in recreation, education and the arts. The town is clean and well run. There’s a mix of housing, the crime rate is low and with the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center and health care services related to it nearby, what’s not to like if you are a person advancing in years?

One person posted on our Sun Bel Air Facebook page that Bel Air’s traffic would discourage her and other seniors from living in or around the town. Truthfully, if you drive around the town – or through it – on a Saturday morning, it doesn’t matter how old you are, the traffic situation is bad, and that’s not the only time, just probably the worst. Getting around to various services and activities, if you don’t drive or have access to a vehicle, also is difficult.

Town officials have all kinds of walking and biking amenities built into their sustainability plan, but again, there are many people because of age or physical condition who can’t bike or walk to places, either. If we’re going to find one major fault with Bel Air as a retirement place beyond the obvious tax issue – which is as much a county and state doing as the town’s – it would have to be the lack of a usable, reliable and affordable transit system. This, incidentally, is a problem that afflicts many towns and cities, regardless of their size. It’s also something not easily or inexpensively solved.

Bel Air is a nice town for people of all ages. But when it comes to ranking it or any place better than any other, for whatever reason, much of what you see is in the eye of the beholder, not what some website says it is. In other words, claims to being “best” at anything aren’t necessarily so.

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