Industry question more than a what-if?

October 08, 1998

Bob MaginnisIs Washington County on the verge of landing a couple of manufacturing companies with wages in the $15-an-hour range? The County Commissioners wouldn't say on Tuesday, but two sources in a position to know say it's a definite possibility.

Ordinarily I don't get many tips on new companies, but after the recent County Commissioners candidates' forum put together by the Hagerstown/Washington Chamber of Commerce, people began telling me that I ought to look again at the list of questions that were asked, specifically Question No. 3.

It read as follows:

"Suppose three large businesses paying wages of $15 an hour relocated into our area at about the same time. Suppose this absorbed the county's remaining sewer and water capacity. Finally, suppose that the cost to add reasonable capacity was $5 million. As County Commissioner, how would you respond?"

In the forum itself, held Sept. 22, Commissioner Ron Bowers responded most enthusiastically, saying that the hook-up fees alone would bring in $16 million to retire county debt. Commissioner John Shank was more cautious, saying that the county would face a moratorium if an industry took up all its capacity. At that point, Shank said, it would be up to the county sewer advisory board for a proposal to expand the plant. If their recommendation was favorable, Shank said, work could begin right away.


For his part, Commissioners' President Snook said it would be important to do a fiscal analysis of any company seeking to come here, because the pre-treatment plant is now at 60 percent of capacity, and "will be a money-making proposition within the next year."

That's an interesting statement given the report from Clarence Scheer, chairman of the county's sewer advisory board, who told the commissioners Tuesday that contrary to what some of them are saying, the pre-treatment plant is not yet making a profit.

That prompted Bowers to tell Scheer that the advisory board has not been given all of the information about new customers expected for the plant.

If the commissioners have done any deals, they're not talking at this point, however, saying Tuesday only that they're working with many clients.

My sources tell me that at least one of the companies is a food-processing plant, not unlike Gold Bond Ice Cream, which would have to dispose of a great deal of dairy-related waste. That would be no problem for this state-of-the-industry plant, Bowers said. But for those who don't remember the complicated dance Gold Bond and the City of Hagerstown did over pre-treatment of that firm's sugary wastes, city officials also began that project saying it would be easy, which it wasn't.

The bottom line: The county may have some prospects interested, but any deal would probably be too complicated to complete before the election. Given the timing - a month before the election, when every incumbent is hunting for ways to look good - if this deal were easy, it already would have been done.

To all of the readers who have called in to argue for the reinstatement of columnist George Will, we're working on it, but we have to work out things with the syndicate, which we're doing now. It's more complicated than it ordinarily would be because of a special offer the syndicate is making for a big package of items that needs some detailed analysis. However, within a few weeks we should get Will back in the fold.

In what may be the last political forum of this election year, the candidates for County Commissioner will meet the public on Friday, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Valley Mall Center. HCC Professor Spring Ward's state and local government class is sponsoring the event, with help from the League of Women Voters. For more, contact her at (301) 790-2800, ext. 409.

WHAG 1410 AM radio will feature candidate interviews this month, according to Will Kauffman, the news director. The schedule is follows:

- At 4 p.m. on Oct. 20, 21, 22 and 23, there'll be interviews with school board candidates.

- At 4 p.m. each weekday during the week beginning Oct. 26, there'll be a round of county commissioner interviews.

- at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, there'll be a head-to-head discussion between incumbent District 2B Del. Bruce Poole and Republican challenger Chris Shank.

Antietam Cable TV will rebroadcast the following candidate forums, at the following times, on its Channel 65:

- State senator and delegate forum, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 8 and Monday, Oct. 12.

- School board candidates' forum, at 8 p.m. on Oct. 8, 13 and 19. The Oct. 8 forum will begin as soon as the delegate/senator forum is over.

Antietam Cable may add other rebroadcast times. For a complete list, go to their web site at, and click on the "what's new" section.

Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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