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A 'to do' list for the county's future

October 23, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Earlier this month, I wrote about a conversation I had with a member of Herald-Mail's editorial advisory board about his concern that few Washington County Commissioner candidates have offered a vision for the future.

As I said then, there are two possibilities: Either they don't have one, or won't talk about it, because they know that achieving it will require some hard choices.

But doing nothing will lead to what's happened in Frederick County, which most agree is what we don't want here. Let me offer a few suggestions on what's needed to achieve a brighter future.

  • Because manufacturing will become more automated over time, we're unlikely to see job growth there. There's a better chance growth will occur in areas that depend on computer technology, of the kind that could utilize the fiber optic cable the state installed along Interstate 70.

    Unfortunately, the effort to make that fully operational is stalled. The county's General Assembly delegation must push to get it going again. Then firms priced out of the metro areas could be lured, with some tax breaks, to renovated quarters in the City of Hagerstown.

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  • To spark the renovation of city properties, Hagerstown must revive the property-tax credit program begun by the late Mayor Don Frush. It gave those who upgraded their properties several years before the value of those improvements was calculated into their tax assessment.

  • Downtown needs more parking and a second deck should be built, using the proposal of builder Richard McCleary. In his plan, a business that wanted 10 spaces would agree to contribute that much to the cost. When enough people had signed on, it would be built.

  • Since the financial needs of the school system will outstrip the annual growth in county revenues for some time to come, the business community needs to put together a drive to create a multi-million-dollar endowment fund to supplement the annual budget.

    Citizens should be glad to contribute because it would hold down their taxes. And over time, enrollment should stabilize. That's because even if every local farm is developed, there will come a time when the county is "built out," as the developers say. At that point, assuming that the stock market recovers, the endowment could cover a substantial part of the school system's costs.

  • To preserve farmland, as many have pointed out, it's necessary to make farming a viable industry. Doing that may mean helping the county's dairy farmers start their own milk-processing plant, or lending a group cash for tankers to take milk to states where prices are better.

    Just as the chamber of commerce has a committee dealing with high technology, it also needs an active committee working with farmers on items like alternative crops and coping with government paperwork.

  • Farmland preservation should be a priority along the county's main roads. It makes sense not only because it would preserve the rural look of the county, but it would also hold land in reserve for the time when an increase in traffic mandates extra lanes.

    Not doing something like that will be expensive. Consider what happened on Robinwood Drive, which the county government designated a "new community" area more than 25 years ago. But during that time, county government failed to start buying homes on road's west side as they became available.

    Then, as the bottleneck developed, county officials decided a whole new bypass was needed. Wonder what that will cost? And more important, who will pay for that lack of foresight?

  • Road-building and development standards must also be improved. On Eastern Boulevard, government allowed too many driveways to exit directly onto the road - the same problem that plagues Pennsylvania Avenue.

    Traffic should be collected on service roads that run parallel to main highway, then enter only through intersections with traffic signals.

  • Hagerstown and Washington County are starting a new round of hostilities, because the city council decided it wanted to require new developments that get city sewer and water to annex.

    The county has rejected this, for reasons that are unclear. Why should the commissioners care? It isn't as if the county won't get its share of tax revenue. And as some current county commissioners have noted, city rates are cheaper, which should encourage development.

    Now the county has decided to challenge the city's rates, an action which may cost both governments thousands to litigate. Instead of joining together on money-saving items like a joint booking facility for police, the two are working at cross purposes.



  • What happens now on these issues will set the tone for years to come. In the 1970s, The Herald-Mail reported that city/county bickering over the proposed Fountain Head sewer had created delays that upped project costs by $9 million. We can't afford such a thing again.

    It's time now for a group like the Greater Hagerstown Committee to mediate this dispute, or watch as tax dollars that could be spent building a better future go toward funding a battle in the present instead.

    Bob Maginnis is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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