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Editorial - Some issues to consider

April 17, 1997

The audience for the last two Hagerstown campaign forums on April 9 and 16 numbered less than 100 citizens, a sad showing considering the issues being raised. This campaign doesn't feature anything that stirs emotions like the 1988 proposal to turn the Municipal Golf Course into a shopping center, but there are important matters being discussed nevertheless.

The top issue may be crime. The March 23 discovery of a 20-year-old New Jersey man's gunshot body, pockets stuffed with crack cocaine packets, on West North Avenue, brought home the reality that violent, drug-related crime isn't just a big-city thing. The question to be answered: Does the council hire more officers before the chief of police asks for them?

Other issues are:

- Downtown redevelopment. Should the city continue its policy of purchasing some properties with federal block grant money, or leave the whole thing in the hands of private enterprise? Some argue that some properties, like those on the northeast corner of Public Square, would have languished for another 40 years without city involvement. Others say that unless the investments are market-driven, taxpayers end up subsidizing the deals.

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- Neighborhood redevelopment. Hagerstown has a higher-than-average percentage of renter-occupied properties, which means that fewer people have a dollars-and-cents stake in their neighborhoods. Some argue that bringing in better jobs will allow more people to become homeowners, while others argue the answer is low-cost mortgage money, or something more innovative, like turning some large old apartment building or hotels into condominiums.

- Tourism. After many years the city government realized what a difference the tourist industry could make to the local economy without a lot of investment in municipal water and sewer services. But what will tourists come to see, and how will those attractions be paid for?

If there are no more forums, you'll have to seek out the candidates yourself to get the answers. If some group is willing to host another forum, promise yourself you won't be absent this time.

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