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Grant Lenox an exemption

April 29, 2003

The Hagerstown City Council should grant Lenox, Inc., an exemption to its annexation-for-utilities policy when it meets on May 6. To do otherwise would not only be unfair, but would put all local economic-development efforts at risk.

Put into effect by the council in September of 2002, the controversial policy requires those whose properties abut the city line to sign an agreement to annex their properties into the city if they want city water or sewer service.

The policy also requires that those whose properties don't abut the city line - but might at some future time - sign a pact saying, in effect, that when the city's boundaries expand to their front door, they'll agree to annexation.

Lenox, Inc., objects, with its spokesmen saying that Lenox agreed to build its new $28 million distribution center in May 2001, long before the council passed the new annexation policy.

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In an April 16 letter to city officials, Louis Fantin, senior vice president and legal counsel of Lenox China, said that when the company was considering whether to remain in Washington County, it did so after hearing from city, county and state officials, none of whom mentioned annexation.

We don't doubt Fantin's statement and although we believe that the City of Hagerstown needs some resolution of the annexation issue, forcing Lenox's hand isn't the way to resolve it, for several reasons.

Part of Lenox's decision was undoubtedly a calculation of its future costs. Had they known that city taxes were a possibility, company officials might have made a different choice. We have to believe that if they don't get the exemption they seek, they'll pursue legal action.

But perhaps worse, they will tell other prospects that they were encouraged to stay under false pretenses. How easy will it be to land the next industry if the last one is sending that message?

Finally, city officials should realize that as they negotiate the annexation issue, putting new jobs in jeopardy will bring the city scorn, not support. The city council should grant the exemption, then continue to negotiate with the county.

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