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City, county officials meet privately

August 27, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Officials from the City of Hagerstown and Washington County governments have been meeting privately for months in attempts to resolve long-standing disputes, one of the officials said Thursday.

The first public result of those talks will take place Tuesday, when officials make a presentation at City Hall on proposed agreements between the County Commissioners and the City Council at a joint meeting between the two bodies.

City Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said he, fellow Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, and Commissioners Doris J. Nipps and James F. Kercheval have been meeting privately on the proposals.

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Nipps, Kercheval and Metzner did not return messages left for them on Thursday seeking comment.

The point of the discussions, Aleshire said, was to develop terms to which the commissioners and council members could agree on long-standing areas of dispute, including taxes, development, water and sewer connections and annexation.

Aleshire said he didn't think any of the disputes have hurt residents, but said the disputes need to be resolved so the two bodies can work together to better deal with an expected onslaught of commercial and housing development.

Aleshire said he hoped the proposals would result in things like more cohesive housing developments and better future cooperation on policy issues and school and road construction projects.

Some of the disputes between city and county officials have turned into public battles.

Last year, a lawsuit filed by Washington County against the City of Hagerstown tested the city's annexation policy. A second lawsuit testing the city's administration of water and sewer services to county customers was dropped.

The water and sewer issue arose again recently when the City Council nearly kept the county from installing more sewer lines that connect to the city's system. The move could have halted new construction of homes in the county.

Other complaints by city officials have revolved around the administration of tax money. The county collects some taxes from businesses and property owners within city limits, and city officials have claimed city residents do not see the benefits of those taxes.

City officials have expressed interest in another housing policy item, but the policy has received a lukewarm reception from county officials.

The so-called inclusionary zoning policy would guarantee more low-income housing, but spread it throughout the city and county instead of clustering it in one development. Montgomery County, Md., has had similar rules for 30 years.

An expert who gave a talk in June about inclusionary zoning said it would be more effective if adopted countywide.

Aleshire said he believes the new housing policy would work, but only with county cooperation.

About the efforts to bring the two governments closer, Aleshire said, "We can either get along to move forward or we can both take our toys and go home. ... It would be a shame to take our toys and go home."

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