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If local governments fight, then taxpayers get the bills

August 26, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last week the Washington County Water and Sewer Advisory Commission announced that it had asked the state agency that reviews utility rates to look at how much Hagerstown utilities charge to those customers outside the city limits.

On the surface, it looks like a consumer-protection issue, but it has the potential to raise tensions between the two governments, which had been working toward agreement on sewer issues.

That work began during the last county board's term, when city and county officials agreed to have their staffs work on a plan to interconnect their sewer systems in a way that would save city and county utilities money - and possibly pave the way for future cooperation.

But when the last Hagerstown Council was elected, some of its members backed the argument advanced by former mayor Robert Bruchey, who wanted a city/county sewer agreement changed so that those developing property outside the city would have to agree to annex to get city service.

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The two governments met in an attempt to work out the issue, but haven't been able to agree, in part because state officials have declined to help mediate the dispute.

Why should you as a citizens care if two governments disagree? Because if they don't, money that could be saved won't be, nor will the two governments take what looked like a good first step toward a number of joint ventures.

Government is too expensive and the area's two largest governments could cut their costs by cooperating and merging departments.

Not long ago the commissioners were arguing that it wasn't necessary to force developers to annex because they had a financial incentive to do so because utility rates were cheaper for in-city customers.

Now a county agency, with the commissioners' blessing, is questioning that idea. When will these two governments realize that acting like adversaries is something that their constituents can no longer afford?

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