Joint meeting sets agenda for city-county agreement

September 01, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - The Washington County Commissioners and the Hagerstown City Council for the first time on Tuesday heard proposals designed to improve economic conditions inside and outside the city, and settle some long-standing disputes between the governments they represent.

"Both sides are giving. Both sides are taking. And that's the way it's gotta work," County Commissioner John C. Munson said after the meeting.

The proposals were developed in private over the past five months by councilmen Kristin B. Aleshire and Lewis C. Metzner, and commissioners Doris J. Nipps and James F. Kercheval.


Metzner said the current talks would set an expiration date for those agreements in two years, but with the hope they would continue afterward.

Officials said the proposals are more development-friendly to the city and the county, and the city could see an additional $500,000 to $750,000 in new tax money annually over those first two years, although officials said they believed the benefits were greater than that.

Metzner said that whether the city or county gives up "a couple hundred thousands of dollars a year on either side of that fence, (it) pales in comparison ... to what everybody gains."

The proposals, if adopted, would change several ways the two governments interact.

Tax changes

The city would be allowed to earn more tax money in several ways.

Specifically, the city would get 20 percent - versus nothing currently - of the county's portion of the hotel-motel tax. Also, any costs incurred from collecting the county excise tax would be reimbursed to the city.

The county would commit to giving the city $300,000 a year for capital improvement projects, although in the first two trial years, that would come in the form of the money already committed to the city's planned parking deck.

If the county adopted new county-wide, development-related fees, those would be shared with the city and other municipalities in the county.

Property taxes in an area just outside city limits - which would be mapped out in the final agreement - would be shared, bringing the city possibly $300,000 annually.

City limit expansion

A new planning area would be mapped out, showing officials' vision of what the long-term corporate boundaries should be. Kercheval said the area would be roughly twice the size of the current corporate limits.

After the meeting, Metzner said the proposed line would differ little from an earlier agreement, but with one important distinction: Land along Hopewell Road would be excluded from the city's annexation policy and therefore would not be forced to join the city.

A major sticking point in previous city-county relations, that distinction would help lure industrial businesses to those areas, Metzner said.

Otherwise, city limits would expand as properties neighboring the city developed and added water and sewer connections.

The City of Hagerstown provides water and sewer service beyond its corporate limits into the county.

While there are no foreseen problems with the city's ability to provide water, state-regulated and mechanical limits on the amount of sewage the city's plant can treat have led to officials squabbling over how much sewer capacity should be allotted to customers on both sides of city limits.

The proposals would do away with an agreement that gives the county 25 percent of the city's overall sewage capacity and would replace it with a first-come, first-served policy.

The proposal would give equal priority to new city and county customers as long as there is capacity left for new city projects.

Officials did not set a time frame to have an agreed-upon document covering Tuesday's discussions, although they expressed a desire to see many of the proposals take place.

"I think we made some real tremendous strides," City Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said. "The devil's in the details."

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