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City Council debates role in homeownership program

July 16, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

Hagerstown City Council members were split Tuesday over whether the city should broaden its role in a homeownership program to include its own employees.

Last year the city participated in the state's new Live Near Your Work program, which gives employees of participating employers $3,000 to help with purchase and closing costs if the employee contributes at least $1,000 toward a new home near his or her workplace.

The state, the city and the employer each contribute $1,000 toward the benefit.

Only one buyer has benefited from the program so far, said George Andreve, manager of the city's Department of Community Development.

Ellsworth Electric and Morin-Rocco Contractors are the only participating employers, according to a memo from Andreve to City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman.

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If the city participated as an employer, it would have to contribute $2,000 of the $3,000 to eligible employees.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said the council could be perceived as helping its employees buy houses with tax dollars, but not helping others.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said the city does help others through various homeownership programs. She said city employees should have access to the program.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said if the state doesn't participate as an employer, the city should follow its lead.

But Councilman William M. Breichner said the city shouldn't discriminate against its employees just because the state doesn't help its own through the program.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, who was absent Tuesday, will have to break the tie, officials said. The council isn't expected to vote on the program until July 28.

The city must determine how much money should be budgeted from the Community Betterment Fund for the program since some participants may not meet federal grant income-eligibility requirements.

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