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Snook, Wivell want better cooperation from Council

January 07, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Two Washington County Commissioners said Tuesday that they want better cooperation from the City of Hagerstown if the county commits $600,000 toward a planned $2.4 million parking deck downtown.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Vice President William J. Wivell said during a Tuesday meeting that they want to meet with the City Council to discuss several matters over which the city and county disagree, including water and sewer issues.

"If we're willing to commit ... what sort of commitment would we receive from City Council as far as working together?" Wivell asked city representatives who attended Tuesday's commissioners meeting.

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"Are we going to see better cooperation?" Wivell asked.

Snook said the county wants to support the city's efforts to develop downtown Hagerstown, including the parking deck, "But we have other issues we need to (discuss) with the council ... for the betterment of everyone."

"I think we want to go forward and help them with this project, but there's some other projects we need to talk about before we go forward with the project," Snook said by phone after the meeting.

Wivell said after the meeting that the $600,000 could depend upon a "mutual cooperation agreement" between both governments but, ultimately, it will come down to whether the county can afford it.

"No one's agreed to give the city $600,000 at this point," Wivell said.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said he thought the city would be open to discussions with the county and that the city shares the county's concerns.

The deck would be behind the former Tri-State Electric, Walker and Double T properties on South Potomac Street, and primarily would serve that Arts and Entertainment District and the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

Breichner, Finance Director Al Martin and Economic Development Director Debbie Everhart presented the city's plan for the parking deck to the commissioners.

They asked the county to contribute $600,000, which would be matched by the city. The remaining costs would be financed, Martin said.

Wivell said the new deck will put the city in the hole by about $35,000 a year, because the revenue from parking rates would not be enough to cover the annual costs the city will have to pay associated with the project.

According to a city document, the deck will cost the city about $155,000 a year - approximately $30,000 in operating costs and $125,000 to pay off debt from the project.

The city anticipates receiving less than $121,200 a year in revenues from parking rates, according to the document. Even if the city received that amount, it would be left with a $33,800 annual shortfall, the document says.

The city's current parking fund has been losing about $100,000 to $200,000 a year for the last few years, Martin said.

Wivell asked Don Bowman, owner of Bowman Development Corp., whether he would contribute toward the cost of the parking deck if he were offered tax credits.

"We'd look at anything," Bowman said.

Bowman Development Corp. plans to restore and renovate the buildings in front of the planned deck. The buildings would include offices, a restaurant and a coffee shop.

Bowman drafted the parking deck plan.

City officials said the deck would play a critical role in revitalizing downtown.

Martin said that not having adequate parking downtown would be "as crazy as" building a shopping mall without enough parking.

"People have vehicles. They need to have some place to park them," he said.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he didn't have a problem with the project itself, but "Everybody in the county's going to be paying for it. I have a problem with that."

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