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Hospital could get a deal on city water

July 30, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner is offering to waive about $2.3 million in one-time water and sewer charges for a new hospital, provided it is built downtown, Breichner said Monday.

The Hagerstown City Council has not voted on the offer.

The incentive will be a factor in the decision about where a hospital would be built, James Hamill, president and chief executive officer of Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company, said Monday.

"It adds to the value of the site. There is no question about that," Hamill said.

A two-block site in downtown Hagerstown is one of three under consideration, Hamill said Friday.

A customer hooking up to the city's water and sewer systems must pay a one-time benefit charge based on the customer's average daily use of water.

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The hospital uses about 220,000 gallons of water a day, Breichner said.

Based on the amount of water the hospital uses now, the benefit charge for the hospital if it moved would be $987,840, Breichner said.

The benefit charge for sewer service would be about $1.3 million, Breichner said.

The city is offering to waive those fees because of the importance of keeping the hospital in the city, Breichner said.

Breichner said he says he sees the offer, not as the city waiving fees for the hospital, but as giving the hospital "credit" for the water and sewer it uses now.

The hospital, the city's largest sewer customer, paid $255,000 in fiscal 2001, according to the city's annual financial report.

The hospital is the city's fifth-largest water customer, paying $94,000 in fiscal 2001, the report said.

The hospital is the city's second-biggest electrical customer, paying $519,018 in fiscal 2001, the report said.

The city wants the hospital to be built in a block bordered by East Franklin and East Washington streets, and Mulberry Street and North Cannon Avenue, Breichner said.

To meet the needs of a new hospital, the city said a parking deck could be built on the block surrounded by Washington, Antietam and Mulberry streets and South Cannon Avenue, he said.

The city's proposal would require acquisition of 59 properties, he said.

At its July 23 meeting, the Hagerstown City Council adopted by a 4-1 vote a resolution offering to use its power of eminent domain to forcibly take land to help the hospital, if it chooses the downtown site.

Councilwoman Penny May Nigh voted against the resolution.

Under eminent domain, a public agency takes land needed for a public project and pays the owner fair market value for the property. The owner can contest the attempt and take the matter to court.

Breichner said he does not think the city has used its power of eminent domain in 30 years.

He said he assumes the hospital would pay the cost of buying the property.

The city has asked the state Office of Smart Growth to help provide other incentives to convince the hospital to choose the downtown site, Breichner said.

The other two sites being considered for the hospital are Allegheny Energy's 450-acre Friendship Technology Park off Interstate 70 south of Hagerstown, and 230 acres of agricultural land east of Hagerstown Community College and near the Robinwood Medical Center. The medical center is owned by Washington County Health System.

If the hospital were to be built at the site near HCC, the city probably would provide water and sewer services but without the incentive offered at the downtown site, Breichner said.

The city might consider annexing the property near the college if the hospital were built there, Breichner said.

The 461,153-square-foot hospital has about 2,100 employees, making it the fifth-largest employer in the county, according to the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

The Health System has about 3,000 employees, which the Economic Development Commission said makes it the largest employer in the county.

Hamill has said he expects a preferred site to be selected this summer, but that a decision on whether the system can afford a new hospital won't be made until next summer.

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