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Commissioners vote to help buy houses in flood zone

March 24, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The Washington County Commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to help buy six houses in Hancock that are susceptible to flooding.

The town plans to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a grant to buy the houses. If accepted, the federal government would pay for 75 percent of the purchase costs and the state of Maryland would pick up 12.5 percent.

The county and town governments would split the remaining 12.5 percent.

If the grant comes through, the town plans to tear down the buildings and create a park near the C&O Canal and the Western Maryland Rail Trail.

Hancock Mayor Daniel Murphy said the program is needed because the houses are damaged and detract from downtown. Of the six houses, three are unoccupied and one is boarded up.

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"They become our slums," he said.

Two commissioners voted against the proposal, arguing that it will set a bad precedent.

"I know these people had to know the water was going to rise at some point. That's kind of a risk that they should assume," said Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

Commissioner William J. Wivell, who also voted against the proposal, said he did not want to set a precedent that would lead to county-funded purchases of other properties along the flood plain.

"I'm not, necessarily, willing to go there at this point," he said.

The six houses, which are all on East Main Street, are among 13 houses in the town that qualify for the grant, Town Manager Louis O. Close said.

The six houses have a combined assessed market value of $222,392. That and other costs would push the project to $270,242, although the actual cost is unknown because the government would have to negotiate purchase prices with the homeowners.

Under the $270,242 estimate, the town and county would each pay about $16,890.

On a motion by Commissioner Paul L. Swartz, the commissioners agreed to include the project in the fiscal year 2000 capital budget.

The town must apply for the FEMA grant by April 15. Close said a decision could come in May or June. Then the properties would have to be appraised, which could take 60 to 90 days.

Commissioner Bertrand L. Iseminger Jr. said it does not make sense to spend money to repair houses that likely will be flooded again.

"The whole idea is to get them out of there," he said.

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