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Editorial - The city's top priority

July 14, 1997

The Hagerstown Mayor and Council (minus Susan Saum-Wicklein) spent five hours this past Friday talking about their goals for the next year. There were some good ideas kicked around - moving a department that helps low-income families buy homes to street-level location, for example. But there was little mention of what should be city's top priority - city-county cooperation.

Mayor Robert Bruchey II alluded to it when he discussed a possible revival of the city's own economic-development commission, saying that the idea could be put on hold for a year to see what the county government will do.

In our view, waiting a year, or even six months, is not the way to go. On this and other issues, city officials must begin talking to county officials on a regular basis, because the fate of the two are linked. And as long as the county is in a weakened financial condition, the city will suffer as well.

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For example, after being forced to raise taxes because of the $50 million-plus sewer debt, it's not politically feasible for the county to contribute a share to any new baseball stadium or recreational facilities at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds.

And while the promise of new jobs might remove the political obstacles to spending cash to help the city develop a new industrial park, the county's debt burden might make it impossible.

The issue of education funding should concern city officials as well, since many students from families with few economic resources attend schools within the city limits. Because students from low-income families tend to be poor academic performers, the city should be concerned that a new initiative that would have provided extra reading and math help for them was axed from this year's school budget.

Through prudent management, Hagerstown has avoided Washington County's fate. But city officials cannot just sit back and watch the county struggle to escape from this financial pit of quicksand. Without being pulled in themselves, city officials have to help their larger counterpart find a way out, because the county can't help anyone as long as it's hip deep in a sticky mess.

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