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County departments again feel squeeze

December 20, 2000

County departments again feel squeeze



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer


Before voting in March to pay about $1.1 million for a new annex in downtown Hagerstown, the County Commissioners were told the 12,500-square-foot building had enough space to house the county engineering, planning and permits and inspection departments.

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On Tuesday, Public Works Director Gary Rohrer told the commissioners that was no longer the case. He suggested the county move only the planning and permits departments into the building.

Rohrer also suggested moving his three-person office and the engineering department employees into the 11,300-square-foot office building used by the Water and Sewer Department, which was built by the now-defunct Washington County Sanitary District.

The former Washington County Sanitary Commission Administration Building is in the Interstate 70/81 Industrial Park near Williamsport off Md. 63. It is the home of the Conococheague Industrial Pre-Treatment Plant and the Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant.

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Moving those departments there would cost a previously budgeted $86,640, Rohrer said. He estimated it would cost a previously budgeted $200,000 to move the planning and permits departments into the newly acquired annex building.

When the county was planning to use the annex to meet the departments' space needs for three to five years it was sufficient, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said Wednesday. But it does not have enough space for 10 years of growth.

The county could move the departments there now, Rohrer said, but they would be as cramped as they are now, housed together on the third floor of the County Administration Building.

"There was truly no ulterior motive on coming back with this revised plan," Rohrer said.

The new plan to expand three Washington County departments into two buildings drew criticism and comments of frustration from a majority of the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday.

"I bought the building thinking we had our space problems solved," Commissioner John L. Schnebly said.

He thought it was decided to move all the third-floor departments there.

Rohrer said a new plan can be developed if the commissioners don't like the one he proposed.

A tenant of the water and sewer building, American Advance Computers, moved out in recent months, opening up 3,500-square-foot space for the engineering department, Rohrer said.

It also helped the county switch from finding a "three- to five-year fix" to a "chance for a solid 10-year layout with plenty of room for flexibility," he said.

Shoop endorsed the plan. But he also wasn't surprised by the commissioners' frustrations because he had the same reaction, he said Wednesday.

"When I first heard the concept and idea of moving engineering to water and sewer, my first response was 'why are we doing that?'" he said.

Once he understood it, he agreed with the plan.

"From the staff's standpoint we want to make sure we present to the commissioners every option to meet our space requirements as possible, and I think that in presenting every option there was some new and different ideas that we presented. The commissioners responded to that with frustration," Shoop said.

Commissioner William J. Wivell and Schnebly also objected to the idea of asking the Washington County Board of Education to consolidate at the same time the county has plans to use more space.

"It's somewhat hypocritical," Wivell said.

Wivell also questioned again why the county can't move the Forty West Landfill offices into the Water and Sewer building if there is available space instead of building a $250,000 office building at the nearby landfill, in a bend of the Conococheague Creek near U.S. 40.

If the county is going to use the Water and Sewer Building, Wivell asked why it needs the newly purchased annex building. He voted against that purchase and supports selling the building.

Commissioner Paul L. Swartz agreed with Wivell's objections.

Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said he, too, was frustrated that the three county departments won't fit into the annex.

But since the money is already budgeted and it takes care of county needs for 10 years, he is satisfied with the plan, Iseminger said.

The issue will come before the commissioners at the Jan. 2 meeting for further discussion.

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