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Two months and counting:Will $650,000 grant be lost?

April 30, 2003|by BOB MAGINNIS

In an effort to save a $650,000 state grant, the City of Hagerstown has offered to sign an agreement to interconnect city and county sewer systems and let the court settle the contentious issue of annexation, according to Councilman Kristin Aleshire.

Quite a breakthrough, right? Maybe, maybe not. Aleshire isn't on the city's negotiating team and Councilman Linn Hendershot, who is, said Monday the city still has some issues to resolve before it will ink the pact.

But a top state official told me Monday that if the two sign an "annexation-neutral" agreement before June 30, they won't have to wait until the court rules on the city's annexation policy in September.

George Keller, Maryland Department of the Environment Water Management Administration Program administrator, said that both parties were recently told by officials at "the highest levels" that the grant has been hanging out there for two years. If the two sides can't agree by the end of June, it will be allocated to other projects, Keller said.

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The agreement is necessary to get the cash, Keller said, because "we want to make sure that the pipe for which the state is investing state funds will be used as intended."

So what's the holdup? Because the negotiating teams have promised not to speak publicly about offers and counter-offers, it's difficult to say.

Hendershot did say that it has been nearly a month since the two sides have met and that it's the county's turn to respond to the last city proposal.

John Urner, the city attorney and a member of the city's negotiating team, agreed, saying that "the ball is presently on the county's court."

Commissioner William Wivell, from the county's team, said the county is waiting for some information from the city about one of Hagerstown's proposals.

The two governments agreed to interconnect systems in February 1999 under a pact which would send waste from 111 homes and 20 commercial properties to the county's Conococheague treatment plant.

Greg Murray, the county's director of water and sewer operations, said then that the agreement would be a first step toward proving a large-scale merger could work.

Aleshire said he had opposed separating the annexation issue from the flow-transfer agreement six months ago, for fear the new sewer line would trigger more development outside the city.

Now he's backing the separation of the two issues, he said, in hopes that the county will not okay a large amount of new development outside the city.

Without knowing what's being proposed, I can only get a partial picture of where the logjam is. The short version goes like this: City officials are afraid that if they yield on the flow-transfer agreement, the county will have no incentive to negotiate on the annexation issue.

On the county side, the concern seems to be that if the city doesn't exempt certain areas, like Hopewell Valley, local economic-development efforts might be severely damaged.

Why should you care? Because this dispute has the potential to limit the number of new jobs created locally, not to mention what it will cost taxpayers in legal fees. The parties have two months to solve this, so please encourage them to do so.




As the Washington County Commissioners consider their general fund budget, let me make a selfish plea for the full funding of the last phase of the Smithsburg Library grant.

Why is it selfish? Because my livelihood depends on people reading, so the more opportunities they have to read, the better it is for me.

The library committee has raised $670,000 for a project that will cost $1 million, in large part because the commissioners pledged $200,000, half of which they've already delivered.

The present library is only 1,000 square feet, as opposed to the 10,000-square-foot building that's planned, in part because the present building has no space for children's programs.

If you're one of the 55,000 people who lives within 10 miles of this facility, which will be a branch of the Washington County Free Library, consider helping out in two ways.

Urge the commissioners to make good on their promise and send your own donation to Friends of the Library, P.O. Box 648, Smithsburg, MD, 21783. Thank you in advance.

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