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herald & mail editorial 4/15/01

May 15, 2001

Difficult issues make today's election vital



Some election officials are predicting that no more than 20 percent of Hagerstown's eligible voters will go to the polls in today's city elections, citing the fact that there is no single emotional issue stirring up voters.

That's true, to a certain extent. In 1987, when the council proposed selling the Municipal Golf Course as a site for a new shopping center, the battle lines were quickly drawn, in part because it was an issue everyone could easily understand. Today's issues are more complicated, but no less important.

The mayor and council elected today will have to deal with a city government whose expenses are growing faster than its revenues. City officials will have to find ways to cut expenses, perhaps by merging some city and county departments.

Revenue growth will be a tougher nut to crack, because most of the city's operating cash comes from property taxes and the city has many older buildings that are not increasing in value. Getting people to invest in those properties is a sales job the next council must take on.

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And then there's the problem of emergency services. Sooner or later, we believe, Hagerstown's police chief will ask for additional officers to combat the drug dealers who find Hagerstown's location convenient for their trade. Community Rescue Service, which serves the more impoverished areas of the city, has already asked for a major subsidy. The next council will have to find money for both.

It is not all bleak, however. As companies and would-be homeowners are priced out of counties to the east, Hagerstown has the opportunity to welcome in new business owners and residents who'll have cash and time to invest in the city.

Whether that happens will depend on the professionalism and dedication of people elected today. We hope the efforts of the fine field of candidates on the ballot today are matched by voters' determination to choose the best among them to run the city for the next four years. Let's confound the experts with a record turnout today.

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