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Hagerstown slots parlor would hurt local charities

July 16, 2004

Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch opposes the legalization of slot machines, saying that to do so would be to enter a "race to the bottom."

But if they're going to be legalized, Busch said, Hagerstown would be a great place for a slots parlor.

We have two thoughts. The first is that Busch is not serious about this plan. The second is that even though Hagerstown is near the intersection of Interstates 70 and 81, this would be a terrible location for a slots parlor.

Why? Because any slots operation here would have to compete with the Charles Town Races & Slots, which offers horse racing, fine dining and thousands of slots. A parlor with and rows rows of slots wouldn't draw people interested in a day's outing, but those gambling addicts the speaker says he's concerned about.

The second reason is that any slots parlor would compete with Washington County's tip jars, which fund a variety of charitable activities.

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In August 2003, the Washington County Gaming Commission distributed $1.38 million to 94 nonprofit organizations. In that same year, the commission sent $1.35 million to the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association.

Some of the awards made in that distribution included $45,000 for a new gymnasium at the Girls Inc., center on Hagerstown's Washington Avenue and $15,985 to Children's Village of Washington County on Mount Aetna Road.

Other recipients include youth sports teams and the Regional Community Health Care Center, formerly the Community Free Clinic, which received more than $100,000 toward operating expenses.

Without these revenues, it is certainly more likely that Washington County would have to enact a separate fire tax and find other ways to fund medical care for the uninsured and traffic-safety programs for youth.

Would the local area get a similar deal from a slots parlor? We doubt it. Even if there was a local share, it would require going to Annapolis on bended knee to get it.

We prefer local control, with nonprofits' requests evaluated by a locally appointed board. This system has worked well since 1995, and until Speaker Busch comes up with something better, we'd like him to leave the good thing this area has now alone.




Rental moratorium? Yes



Some members of the Hagerstown Planning Commission this week questioned whether proposed limits on new rental housing in the city really make sense.

Of course they do, for a number of reasons.

A study of the city's mix of rental and owner-occupied housing done by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond in the 1990s showed that the city's population is made up of 60 percent renters and 40 percent homeowners.

That's exactly the opposite of the mix experts feel is best for a healthy city. After the study was completed, the city launched several initiatives designed to boost homeownership, including the Home Store downtown.

The city also created a rental-inspection program, in an effort to make the city's many substandard rental units safe and attractive.

The directors of such programs in other areas say that, over time, such programs improve the neighborhoods - and encourage those landlords who are not interested in upgrading their properties to sell out and move on.

Allowing the creation of a whole new wave of rental properties would do two things, both bad. If there are a lot of newer units built on the fringe of the city, there will be fewer customers for renovated properties closer to downtown.

And over time, as those properties age, the owners will be tempted to keep them occupied by converting them to subsidized units that will draw new lower-income residents to Hagerstown.

The city already has a large population of lower-income residents, which is why caring local folks founded the Community Free Clinic and the REACH homeless shelter.

We feel compassion for those who must take advantage of such services, but the city cannot house a larger share of the state's low-income population.

What Hagerstown needs is an influx of homeowners with cash to invest in making this a better city. If a moratorium on new rental units in a city that already has thousands of them helps accomplish that, we say that would be a good thing.

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