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City's games aren't funny

August 15, 2004|by Ed Lough, Charlie Shindle and Jim Latimer

Remember the old "Peanuts" cartoon where Charlie Brown is about to kick the football and Lucy always pulls it away at the last second? Well, the City of Hagerstown is playing that kind of game with the Washington County Health System.

The only difference is that we're not laughing, and that it could end up costing us taxpayers a lot of money. For months, the health system has been trying to negotiate in good faith with the city in order to get support for building a new hospital at Robinwood. First, the city wouldn't talk to the hospital. Then they spent more than $300,000 of taxpayers' money to hire a lawyer to fight the hospital's move.

All the while, every day of delay in moving the hospital project forward costs the hospital about $14,000. That's money you and I are going to end up paying for because these costs will ultimately be reflected in the final-construction price tag.

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Ultimately, the hospital withdrew its first Certificate of Need application to try to address the city's concerns and negotiate some reasonable settlement so that the city could support the project. Instead of negotiating in good faith, the city submitted a ridiculous list of 17 demands including tearing down the Holiday Hotel and paying a fee of $350,000 to the city every year. They call that fee a PILOT or payment in lieu of taxes. It's another way of taxing nonprofit organizations that otherwise wouldn't be taxed. Every nonprofit in town ought to be concerned about this idea.

Now the city is at it again. After taking some of the most ridiculous demands off the table during recent negotiations, it is now putting new ones before the hospital. Will the demands never end? Is the city going to keep dragging out negotiations and adding costs to the project so that we never get a new, modern hospital to take care of our families?

The city is once again insisting that the hospital pay for a new bridge even though four - count 'em - four traffic studies say that a new bridge is not needed. The city wants the hospital to pay to improve a new U.S. 40 intersection as well, that has nothing to do with potential hospital traffic.

Ideally, the hospital wants to reach an acceptable agreement with the city to satisfy its concerns and hopefully win its support before submitting a new Certificate of Need application. However, if the city keeps snatching the football away from the hospital, we hope that the hospital simply tells the city it isn't going to play games anymore and moves ahead without city's support.

Would the city then spend another $300,000 or more on high-priced lawyers to fight the application again? And how would they explain that to all city taxpayers?

For more information on the benefits of the new hospital and annexation, log onto our Web site at www.hwchc.org.




The authors are the chairs of the Hagerstown-Washington County Community Healthcare Coalition.

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