A contest, tax cash, power and war

March 19, 2003|by BOB MAGINNIS

The legislature's decision to raise the state government's share of property taxes will cost Marylanders with homes worth $100,000 $50 per year. But with revenues melting faster than last month's snows, that may not be enough. More unpleasant surprises may be on the way, so here's your chance to tell state lawmakers what to cut, in 100 words or less.

What state-provided service could you do without? Readers should skip the last-one-in-the-lifeboat proposals, like ending medical care for poor people, but everything else is on the table.

The winner will receive a $35-per-couple ticket to the Hagerstown Exchange Club's annual pig roast, to be held Saturday, May 17, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Potomac Fish and Game Club.

The proceeds will benefit Exchange Club charities, including the Parent-Child Center, a United Way agency that works to prevent child abuse.


Send entries to Letter Contest, Editorial Page Editor, The Herald-Mail Company, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, MD, 21740, or e-mail them to The deadline is Monday, March 23.

And speaking of taxpayers' money, on Monday, March 31, at 9:30 a.m., the Washington County Circuit Court will hear oral arguments on motions filed by the City of Hagerstown in a suit by the Washington County Commissioners and local builders over the city's policy of demanding an annexation agreement before it will extend utility service outside the municipal boundaries.

Both sides have arguments that make sense. The county says that the city previously accepted grants that commit it to being a regional provider of sewer service. The city says that unless it can grow, it won't have the tax revenue needed to provide services in the future.

Negotiations to settle this out of court continue, so far without success, and some elected officials feel that court action will settle the issue once and for all.

But as Circuit Court Judge Frederick Wright said when the current board of commissioners was sworn in, elected leaders who can't settle disputes without legal action may spur citizens to sue instead of trying to work things out.

What private citizens do is their own business, but when governments battle each other in court, the taxpayers get to pay two sets of the legal bills. Remember this waste of money the next time an elected official says government can't afford to build something the area really needs, like the central police booking facility.

Anyone who's worked with any non-profit organization in Washington County has probably rubbed shoulders with someone from Allegheny Power. Even when the electric utility was known as Potomac Edison, it allowed its executives to serve in leadership roles on non-profit boards, on study committees and in fund-raising efforts like the annual United Way campaign.

For those gifts alone, I have to hope the firm can emerge from its current financial difficulties. In addition, an article in the Feb. 17 issue of Forbes Magazine suggested that Allegheny stock is worth buying.

Why? Because Allegheny Power generates mostly with coal and nuclear power, much less expensive than natural gas, which Forbes said is four times as costly as those fuels.

I'm no Wall Street analyst and would not suggest anyone invest cash in any stock without doing a lot of research. I do suggest that Allegheny has invested plenty locally for decades, deeds that shouldn't go unnoticed in this time of trouble.

In January 1991, shortly before the start of the Gulf War, I wrote that waiting for war is like waiting for a blizzard.

"Caught between the earth and sky, we wait, the soldiers wait, for events to come tumbling down around all of us."

This time I believe the result will be a quick victory for the U.S., but since the Marshall Plan was completed after World War II, America's record of rebuilding conquered nations has not been good.

Consider Afghanistan, which fell into the hands of the Taliban because after helping the Afghans defeat the Soviets, the U.S. moved on. Now the president promises a democracy for Iraq, even as Afghans wonder what happened to U.S. aid to help them rebuild.

Should parents ignore a child's bad behavior, just because the child is their own? No, and neither should those who love this country fall into the trap of believing that any criticism of the U.S. is unpatriotic.

If America learned anything from the Gulf War, it should have been that if you aren't prepared to wage peace once the shooting stops, you'll eventually have to go back and start shooting again. Let's make sure the bravery and sacrifices of our friends, neighbors and relatives aren't wasted by a half-hearted post-war effort to rebuild Iraq.

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