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Will city-county officials finally approve sewer pact?

July 07, 2003

If we can believe Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner and Councilman Linn Hendershot, the long-awaited sewer pact between Hagerstown and Washington County may be signed on Tuesday night, saving a $650,000 state grant.

Some on each side will be strongly tempted to make a last-minute effort to wring maximum advantage out of the pact. It's a temptation that should be resisted, for several reasons.

The state has already extended the June 30 deadline for accepting the grant. With the state government short of cash, any dollars not claimed soon may be targeted by other jurisdictions for their own needs.

The agreement the city and the county have been working on would allow their two systems to be interconnected. According to city and county sewer staff, both sides will save money and more sewage flow will go to the county's Conococheague plant, which has plenty of capacity to handle it.

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But the best reason to okay this agreement is that it will demonstrate to doubters on each side of the negotiations that this could be the first of many mutually beneficial agreements.

The first ought to be in the area of land use. The money and energy both governments are spending to litigate the issue of annexation ought to be used to craft a joint development policy instead.

If developments on the fringe of the city aren't going to be annexed, they should at least be required to contribute funds to upgrade city streets for all the new vehicles their projects will dump onto them.

And how about economic development? It can't help county efforts to fill its industrial parks to have prospects see the many empty storefronts in downtown Hagerstown, yet the efforts of city and county often seem disconnected on this issue.

The greatest expense of any government is personnel. If the two governments could find a way to merge some of their operations and reduce the size of the merged force through attrition, two sets of taxpayers would save money.

None of this will happen as long as elected officials of both governments don't trust each other. That's why although the deal that could be signed Tuesday may not completely satisfy either side, without it, there are not likely be any agreements to follow.

Elected officials need to look at the big picture, ignore the few details they disagree with and sign this agreement.

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