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County to buy bank building

February 15, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

Although they did not take a formal vote, the Washington County Commissioners have reached a consensus to buy the 12,500-square-foot Farmers & Merchants Bank building near downtown Hagerstown for $1.12 million, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said Tuesday.

The building, which formerly housed Community Supermarket, is at Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue. It has 101 parking spaces.

The commissioners did not vote on the matter due to time constraints, Shoop said.

They did, however, tell County Attorney Richard Douglas to set up a public hearing on the property purchase. Douglas said such a hearing is required by law.

The public hearing will be at 10 a.m. March 14, he said.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said he will vote against the purchase. He has said he does not believe the county needs to expand into another building.

The plan is for the county's Public Works, Planning and Permits and Inspection departments to move to the building, Shoop said.

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Earlier this month, Shoop refused to confirm or deny rumors that the county was negotiating to buy the building. But Douglas confirmed that the commissioners have discussed the purchase in closed session in recent weeks.

Farmers & Merchants President William Reuter announced Feb. 1 that Susquehanna Bancshares Inc., parent company of Farmers & Merchants Bank, plans to open a 30,750-square-foot loans operations center at Top Flight Airpark next to Hagerstown Regional Airport in June.

The larger center would replace the existing center in the building the county plans to purchase. The center is to close by the end of the year.

The earliest the county departments could move in would be the end of November, Douglas said.

The bank bought the Community Supermarket building for $340,000 in March 1995. The supermarket closed in 1991.

The county's proposed six-year capital program contains $1.6 million for downtown expansion: $1.2 million for acquisition, $325,000 for construction and $75,000 for equipment and furniture.

That money includes $700,000 from last fiscal year's budget surplus and $300,000 from fiscal 2002, 2003 and 2004, according to budget documents. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Shoop has been telling the commissioners for more than a year that county government has outgrown the County Administration Building.

Earlier this month the commissioners adopted a list of goals for 2000, including one to "Resolve county government downtown space needs."

In June 1999 the commissioners narrowly rejected a recommendation by Shoop to buy the 24,000-square-foot Wareham Building at 138 W. Washington St.

That building would have cost $635,000, plus an estimated $1.1 million for renovation.

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