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Let city, hospital staff try to work out an agreement

December 16, 2003

Elsewhere on this page is a letter from Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner on the city government's concerns about the Washington County Hospital's proposed move to the Robinwood area.

While The Herald-Mail supports the move because it would put patients and their doctors closer together, we agree with the mayor that it is past time to begin talking about how to resolve this.

We believe our previous proposal makes sense: Let the hospital and the city designate top staff members to work out a solution that both could present to their respective organizations.

The approach has worked for the Hagerstown and Washington County governments, whose officials negotiated an agreement to interconnect sewer systems - a pact that some elected officials had argued would never work. Although it unfortunately became entangled in the city's annexation policy dispute, it now has the potential to save both governments a lot of money.

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Money is the key to what we're talking about here. If the economy continues to improve, interest rates will increase, which means the cost of borrowing money will go up. If the dispute is dragged out for several months, millions of dollars may be added to the project.

And there's another issue to be considered: How this affects the image of Hagerstown and Washington County. Will business, industry and new residents really want to come to an area where no problem can be resolved without a knock-down, drag-out battle?

Before going into these talks, the mayor and council should stop trying to link the project with the revitalization of the city. That ship sailed in 1991, when the Robinwood Medical Center won zoning approval. If previous administrations had been on the ball, that complex might have been built in the city. It's too late now.

For its part, hospital management should agree that some of the city government's concerns - about costs and access - are legitimate.

With such guidelines, city and hospital staffers might just produce a solution. Given the project's importance, isn't it worth a try?

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