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Money magazine ranks city near the top

June 11, 1998|By SHEILA HOTCHKIN and JULIE E. GREENEs

When Money magazine unveiled its annual list of America's most livable areas Wednesday, Hagerstown finished seventh in its category.

But changes in the ranking system make it difficult to tell whether that's a step up or a step down.

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"It just can't be compared," said Patti Straus from the publication's public relations department. "It would be impossible."

For the past 11 years, the survey simply took the country's 300 largest metropolitan areas and, using several "livability factors," ranked them all in one group.

Hagerstown had been ranked as high as 34th in 1994 and as low as 295th in 1991.

But the New York-based financial magazine decided this year it would be more useful to compare each city only to cities in the same region with similar populations.

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"It's hard to compare a big city to a very small city," Straus said.

This year's list was broken down to Eastern, Midwestern, Southern and Western categories. Those were further subdivided to large, medium and small metropolitan areas. Each place was ranked only against those that matched it in both categories.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II approved of the adjustment, calling the categories "more befitting. I'm glad that they decided to change the way they do it."

This year's rankings were based on 37 factors, which examined such points as crime, pollution, public schools and cultural institutions.

Among 21 Eastern metropolitan areas with populations ranging from 100,000 to 249,999, Hagerstown finished seventh. Money magazine defined Hagerstown as all of Washington County for the list.

Hagerstown had the lowest utility costs of those in its category. It also had a particularly low property crime rate and cost of living, finishing third and fourth in those categories, respectively.

"These are things that will continue," Bruchey said.

But according to the survey, Hagerstown and its surrounding communities have a weak job growth forecast for the next five years.

"I would say that's probably (Hagerstown's) weakest point," Straus said, noting that the area finished 20th of the 21 cities in the category.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said he was not surprised with the low job growth forecast for Hagerstown, since the U.S. Census Bureau predicts relatively low population growth for the area.

Bruchey, however, disputed the forecast.

"I think they're wrong," Bruchey said. "There's a lot of things in the works now that will prove them wrong."

City officials were pleased with Hagerstown's overall ranking.

"Their recognition of Hagerstown as a desirable place to live is an accurate one," Zimmerman said, although he said he views the survey with caution, noting a history of sharp fluctuations.

Bruchey said while a higher ranking is a bonus, it has no effect on how he governs the city.

"We just try to make our city the best it can be, period," he said. "And when someone comes along and pats us on the back for it, we appreciate it."

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