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A well-groomed city

August 18, 1998

Last week City Councilman J. Wallace McClure said that Hagerstown is not well-groomed, and needs a makeover that would remove weeds and trash from the sidewalks and install landscaping of the type he saw on a recent trip to Greensboro, N.C. We agree, but it will take more than a broom and some flowers to spruce up the city's image.

The first and perhaps the simplest step would be to prohibit anyone from placing bagged garbage on city sidewalks. Collecting it in the rear of buildings instead would keep the mess out of sight, and the stuff that leaks out of the bags off the pavement.

Next, the city needs a crew, whether it's a private contractor or municipal employees, to patrol the downtown area, cleaning up messes as they occur and working on sprucing up the area continuously. A broken bottle shouldn't stay on the sidewalk for two hours, much less two days.

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Finally, the city needs to crack down on those whose inactivity and inattention may discourage others from doing their part - the owners and managers of property who don't maintain it. All over downtown, you can see the signs of their inattention to detail - peeling paint, grimy windows and bricks with loose mortar that sooner or later will tumble into the street.

In the recent past, the city's approach to some of these properties has been to wait until they're almost beyond repair, then buy them with Community Development Block Grant money. In fairness, for some buildings, that was the only way to get them turned around. But now that many such buildings have been renovated, it's time to keep others from going downhill.

If those in control of the properties are reluctant, the city should take stern measures. Paint them at city expense, then put a lien on the property. The same could be done for window-washing and other necessary clean-ups.

Will the property owners squawk? You bet they will. But who should the city be looking out for - the building owners who want to spend as little as possible on their holdings, or the tourists, who'd like to spend some money here, if given an attractive environment in which to to do it?

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