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Hagerstown faces big issues for 2002

January 03, 2002

Hagerstown faces big issues for 2002



By DAN KULIN
dank@herald-mail.com


Construction of a downtown Hagerstown university center and a city tax increase could be the big issues of 2002 for Hagerstown. But while officials say both are likely, neither is guaranteed to happen during the next 12 months.

Meanwhile, the new year will bring traffic disruptions to downtown Hagerstown as new brick crosswalks are installed and parts of West Washington and West Franklin streets are repaved. Additional improvements also are planned for the city's Fairgrounds Park.

University Center


Within the next month, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening is expected to announce whether the state will release about $12.4 million for the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

The money would be used to renovate the city-owned Baldwin House complex, off Public Square on the first block of West Washington Street, and turn it into a new state university center.

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At best, the money will be released by the governor in January, and the center will be ready for students by fall 2003, university system spokesman Chris Hart said.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said he hopes the worst-case scenario would be that the money for project will be delayed until July.

"I really believe we'll see something come about (in 2002)," Breichner said. "Maybe it would be delayed until July. If it goes beyond then, I'll really start worrying."

In October, faced with additional security costs and a sluggish economy, Glendening announced cost-cutting measures that included postponing at least half of the state construction projects scheduled to begin after December.

Glendening said he would decide which projects would be affected after receiving revised budget estimates.

About $870,000 for the $13.3 million Hagerstown project was allocated for the Hagerstown university center before the governor's action.

Budget and taxes


Hagerstown's Mayor and City Council face a projected $1.5 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1, which could mean another city tax increase.

Breichner said the rising cost of employee wages and benefits, especially health insurance, is driving the projected increases in city expenses.

"No one wants to see a tax increase, but we have to be realistic about it," Breichner said. "The way things look right now, it would be a stretch to say we won't have one."

The $1.5 million deficit is projected for the city's $24 million general fund, which pays for many city services, including police and fire protection. The general fund is the only city fund that receives property tax money.

Faced with a projected budget deficit for the current fiscal year, the previous council cut spending, including cost-of-living raises for city employees, and increased property taxes 5.8 percent.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner says a tax increase will be needed again to balance the budget.

"I would be surprised if it wasn't," Metzner said. "But I'd be very happy to eat crow."

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, who has until the end of March to present a proposed budget to the mayor and council, said they will have to "at least consider" a tax increase.

Zimmerman said it's too early to say for sure whether he will recommend a tax increase.

After receiving Zimmerman's proposed budget, the council will have until June 1 to approve a new budget.

Downtown


From March until Thanksgiving, parts of two main streets in downtown Hagerstown will be repaved and new brick crosswalks will be installed at several intersections, which will cause some traffic lane closures or lane shifts.

The work will be done on West Washington and West Franklin streets between Potomac and Walnut streets. This Maryland State Highway Administration project will mirror the work done in 1999 and 2000 to East Washington and East Franklin streets, said City Engineer Rodney Tissue.

The project is estimated to cost about $1.4 million, Tissue said.

Also, around the J. Louis Boublitz District Court on West Antietam Street, the city plans to buy and demolish the former Unikote building to make way for additional parking spaces. The city also will replace pavement with bricks in the alley next to The Maryland Theatre.

Work on this $260,000 project probably will start in April and be completed in August, Tissue said. The Washington County government is contributing $225,000 toward the project.

The new parking area will have 15 to 20 parking spaces, Tissue said.

Fairgrounds


At Fairgrounds Park, there are plans to add another picnic pavilion near the soccer fields and repair the outside of the entrance and gatekeepers building.

Also, the city is planning Fourth of July fireworks at this park in the northeast corner of downtown.

The $125,000 soccer pavilion will have restrooms, a small concessions area and a picnic area, Tissue said.

Construction of the pavilion could begin in February and be completed by May, he said.

Also in February or March, repairs could begin on the outside of the entrance and gatekeeper's buildings at the park, Tissue said.

Only the exterior of the vacant and deteriorated buildings on the 400 block of North Mulberry Street will be repaired.

The work to be done includes fixing 105 windows, repairing damaged outside walls, and repainting the buildings, which are connected.

The buildings' interiors will not be renovated and will remain unusable.

The repairs are expected to cost about $143,000, including about $116,000 worth of work that will be done by the city Public Works Department. State and federal grants are paying for the repairs, Tissue said.

He said the work could take until September to complete.

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