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Time for county to respond

July 10, 2003

Before he reluctantly agreed to back settlement of a sewer and annexation dispute with Washington County, Councilman Kristin Aleshire asked a key question: What is Hagerstown getting out of this agreement?

Aleshire got several answers, but the best came from City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, who didn't try to sugar-coat what seems like a pact with small potatoes for the city.

The annexation/sewer dispute is like the recent rental-inspection agreement, Zimmerman said. In both cases, there were people who didn't like what the city was doing. To get past those objections and move forward on items like tax differential, the city has to compromise.

To be sure, this is a big compromise for the city. In exchange for the county dismissing its suit over the annexation policy, the city agreed to exempt a significant amount of land on its borders from the policy that requires annexation for sewer service.

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In return, the county agrees to sign the flow-transfer agreement that will interconnect city and county sewer systems, saving a $650,000 state grant, but not much else.

Under the draft accepted Tuesday night, the county is "willing to consider" use of a dedicated portion of the hotel/motel tax to help with city revitalization efforts, but not until FY 2005.

The county government also agreed to take part in a series of studies on the following subjects:

- A joint Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

- A revitalization tax credit program.

- Revisions to the current tax rebate formula, and

- A central booking facility, "subject to funding constraints."

In other words, the county might do a number of things to benefit the city, but only after some study. On central booking - the one item guaranteed to save money and enhance law enforcement - there will be action only if the county government decides it's affordable.

Despite those meager incentives, City Council members have agreed to take a leap of faith and back this settlement. It is now up to the county to respond.

If the County Commissioners treat this as a "gotcha" moment and do the political equivalent of a victory dance, the council won't be motivated to undertake any cooperative action in the future.

The City Council has agreed to sign off on a deal that should settle the annexation issue and help obtain a $650,000 state grant. It's time for the county to do something substantial in return, something besides just agreeing to another round of studies.

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