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Editorial - Seeking sewer solutions

October 20, 1997

It's been more than 20 years since Hagerstown Mayor Pat Paddack and Washington County Commissioner Lem Kirk put their heads together to break the deadlock over the Fountain Head sewer system, a dispute that had dragged on for 10 years and inflated construction costs for the system by millions of dollars. It's time for leaders in both governments to rise to the occasion again and work out some new sewer agreements.

Now, just as it did then, the state is pushing the two governments to agree, because while the city plant nears capacity - and city officials seek grant money for an expansion - the county has a great deal of capacity to spare. The prudent thing, the money-saving thing, it would seem, would be for the two governments to cooperate.

City officials, particularly former mayor Steve Sager, have expressed a fear that if the city accepted the county's proposal for a joint sewer authority, absorbing the county's massive debt would hike city customers' rates. County officials say that without cooperation - and some new pipes - the county cannot work its way out of debt.

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When this dispute arose previously, Herald-Mail took the position that because of the long history of distrust here, no comprehensive merger of the systems is likely in the short term. Instead, we feel the two governments have to take it one step at a time.

Matters on the table now include the Md. 65 Prime Retail development, whose owners don't want city sewer service (or annexation) because it would require a redesign of the shopping center and other delays. Cooperating on this by jointly sewering the center makes sense.

Then there's the Centre at Hagerstown, to be located at Interstate 81 and U.S. 40. The city would like to annex it, but the county would like to have the sewage flow. City officials have two choices: To play hardball and watch the county's woes continue, or yield, and take a role in bringing the county government back to financial health. We hope they choose wisely.

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