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Council cool to development plan

May 07, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A plan to raise up to a $2 million a year to help pay for downtown improvements received a lukewarm reception this week from the Hagerstown City Council.

City Community Development Director Larry Bayer presented the plan at the council's Tuesday work session.

Bayer said money from the proposed Community Revitalization Fund could be used to buy and refurbish buildings, and could be used as a loan program for residential and commercial facade improvements. He said it also could pay for tree planting or street art.

City Council members balked when Bayer outlined plans to pay for the program. Bayer proposed gathering $1.2 million for the coming budget year, with $500,000 of that to be borrowed and the rest coming from an unused city loan fund and yet-to-be-approved development fees.

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The plans for fiscal years beginning in fiscal 2005 would draw on city tax dollars, more proposed development and impact fees, and corporate contributions.

The city has proposed raising property taxes 1.9 percent and adopting more than two dozen fees to help offset a $1.1 million gap in the fiscal 2004-05 budget.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said money isn't available this year.

"I can't see going into trying to take more money out that I know that we don't have," Nigh said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said, "I think it's a good idea to start this. ... But I'm not sure that this year right at budget time" it will work.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman threw his support behind Bayer's plan Tuesday, reminding the council members that downtown development was the council's top priority on a list of city priorities developed last fall.

He said the main community development money available to the city, the federal Community Development Block Grant program, is sometimes difficult to work with because of constraints of that program.

"We've heard you say, loud and clear, 'Downtown's our priority,'" Zimmerman said.

He said council members "consistently send us messages of neighborhood and community revitalization. ... What we're saying is we have very little money to address your priority."

The council asked Bayer to return at a future meeting with a presentation that focused on a specific project.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said Wednesday that the plans seemed preliminary, and called them "definitely ambitious."

While it's not desirable to use money from bonds, which must be paid back, "there are existing funds that could provide (the program) with some direction," he said.|5/7/04

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