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Our View: Hagerstown citizens finally get budget input

May 04, 1999

Hagerstown citizens get a chance to speak tonight on the city's proposed $64.8 million budget, but unless a couple of hundred angry citizens come to City Hall, don't look for any major changes. The mayor and council decided in January to deliberate this budget in secret, so why expect them to take suggestions from the public now?

Since council shaved a proposed seven-cent property tax hike to four cents last year, its members had no stomach for another boost, though property-tax revenues are flat and are expected to remain that way for at least two more years.

Instead, councilmembers opted to balance the budget with a lot of small slices, including not filling seven unmanned or soon-to-be-vacant positions, laying off the City Market manager and cutting trash collections to once a week while raising collection fees.

On the up side, the city is following through with its commitment to the fairgrounds project and the operations of the Home Store, a facility designed to educate and assist those who'd like to own homes within the city. Both of these are "must" projects if the city is to move forward.

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The city is in the shape it's in now because while the developers of suburbia were investing in housing and recreational facilities designed to draw people out of the city, the city's own investment - and that of many property owners - failed to keep pace. And while the city's ability to play catch up will be restricted in the near future, there are some things it can do, including:




- seek more low-interest state mortgage money and market the city as a desirable location for commuters who want the country life on the weekends without acres of property to keep up.

- encourage rental property owners (through tax credits or other means) to upgrade to attract higher-income tenants, and

- continue developing the neighborhood associations, which will not only encourage neighborhoods to work together on problems, but also prompt improvements on a voluntary basis.

In short, the city may be short of cash, but that need not rule out an effort to build pride and market the city to new residents. Such an effort starts by making the citzens partners in progress and not assuming, as the council did this year, that their input would be too much trouble to deal with.

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