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Commissioners show support for merger study

April 24, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A majority of the Washington County Commissioners said Wednesday they support studying a merger between the City of Hagerstown and Washington County governments and having a countywide government, as Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, suggested Tuesday.

But a few Hagerstown officials criticized both McKee and the idea of merging the governments.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner asked how anyone could expect the city and county to agree on the mechanics of a merger when they can't agree on less complicated issues.

McKee's comment Tuesday to members of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce generated a debate that some said is necessary in light of the ongoing disagreements between the governments over water, sewer and annexation issues.

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"The idea of merging the two governments and having one overall government in the county has merit and deserves further study," Commissioner William J. Wivell said.

Commissioners Doris J. Nipps and James C. Kercheval said a study should be done by a group independent of the governments on the benefits and consequences of merging some or all of the bodies.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he supports merging the governments. He also said that the county should not waste money on a study exploring the issue.

Wivell said he does not think money will need to be spent to study the issue.

Wivell, Kercheval and Nipps said they would want to hear the results of a study before taking a position on the issue.

There are examples in the country where a merging of city and county governments has worked well and examples where it has not, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

Commissioner Gregory I. Snook could not be reached for comment.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, expressed general support Tuesday to McKee's suggestion of merging the two governments.

Councilmen N. Linn Hendershot and Kristin B. Aleshire said Tuesday they instead support the position of Del. Richard Weldon, R-Frederick/Washington, who said debating the idea is healthy but the city can most efficiently deliver government services.

The issues the city and county are disagreeing about are complicated and need to be fixed carefully, Weldon said.

"This is a problem you fix with a scalpel, not with a chain saw," he said Wednesday.

Weldon is the only member of the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly who apparently understands this issue, Aleshire said.

On Tuesday, Aleshire said McKee is speaking on water and sewer issues he only understands "10 percent of."

"(McKee) is uninformed and needs to do his homework," Hendershot said.

While Hendershot says he likes McKee, he does not think merging the governments is logical or practical.

McKee said Wednesday night that he disagreed with Aleshire and Hendershot's suggestion that he is not informed on the city-county issues.

The disagreements between the bodies have reached the point where it is time to consider other solutions, such as a merger, McKee said.

Earlier this week, city and county officials said negotiations between them over a controversial annexation policy have stalled, at least temporarily, increasing the possibility the county could lose a $650,000 state grant.

Merging the governments is not an unprecedented idea in the state. Baltimore and Howard counties don't have any municipalities, Miles Cole, a lobbyist for the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said at Tuesday's annual post-legislative forum of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.




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