Md. legislative session was good for county

April 12, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County fared well during the Maryland General Assembly's 1999 session that wrapped up Monday.

The county's crowning achievement was getting crucial startup money for a University System of Maryland campus at Interstate 70 and Downsville Pike.

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While the state's $150,000 contribution covers only about one-fifth of the planning costs, the money commits the state to help build the campus.

Also coming to the county will be $500,000 for the YMCA's new facility and $870,000 for a hospital-run health clinic in downtown Hagerstown.


The grants seem small compared to the millions given to larger jurisdictions such as Baltimore and Montgomery counties.

But they are among the largest Washington County has ever received, lawmakers said.

The campus victory was even more remarkable considering the delegation's opposition to Gov. Parris Glendening's cigarette tax increase, said Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

The extra 30 cents-a-pack in tax money will end up paying for the campus.

"Given all the politics and everything that was going on, I think we pulled it out rather well," said Hecht, who voted for the tax increase.

Other members of the delegation credited a personal lobbying effort. They said the idea was an easy sell because of tremendous community support.

"That is truly going to be a key educational opportunity that this county has never seen before," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

The county had one budgetary loss. The legislature cut $100,000 to study whether Western Maryland needs a nursing home for veterans.

Budget officials have promised to put the money back in the budget next year.

"We'll fight that battle again next year," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Munson said he's glad to see the end of the 90-day session.

"This has been the toughest, most grinding session. On balance, I found this one interesting and exciting and the fights were worth it," he said.

On the legislative front, lawmakers gained the Washington County Commissioners the ability to license home builders and to protect farmers from nuisance complaints.

They helped create a task force to create the state's first state park battlefield at South Mountain.

But there were a few disappointments, most notably a failed attempt to exempt the county from the Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program.

"I think we realized going into it that we had an uphill battle," Shank said.

In another blow to the county, the legislature took out the emission program's 2001 expiration date and will require motorists to spend more money to make their cars meet the pollution standards. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency forced the state to make both changes.

Another legislative loss for the county was an effort to crack down on people who refuse to clean up their homes, which failed on a technicality.

Lawmakers plan to bring up the issue of tougher county nuisance laws again next year.

-- Most local bills pass in assembly

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