What's Fort Ritchie worth? For land alone, $3 million

November 17, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

So how much is the former Fort Ritchie Army base worth?

That's been the source of a dispute between the PenMar Development Corp. and some citizens of Cascade, who wanted a real appraisal done before any sale of the property. The PenMar board's members, or most of them, anyway, believe the "fairness opinion" they had done by Lipman Frizzell & Mitchell LLC of Columbia, Md., was sufficient.

So who is right? A member of The Herald-Mail's Editorial Page Advisory Committee had an interesting idea: Why not ask the Department of Assessments?

After all, if and when the property is sold, it will be taxable property and those are the folks who'll have to figure out how much the bill will be.


As of September 2003, the property listed as "Camp Ritchie" on the state's rolls was valued at $2,969,400.

That figure is for land only and doesn't include any of the many buildings and improvements, according to Tim O'Rourke, the county's supervisor of assessments.

The department didn't do the buildings previously, O'Rourke said, because at the time, the property wasn't taxable and it would have been a "huge undertaking."

O'Rourke said that his department has received a list of 220-some "substantial properties" from the Army. Depending on how they're conveyed, he said the department might have to seek help to get the job done.

"There's a lot of things we'd have to consider," he said.

My recent interview with doctors Karl Riggle and John Caruso, the two Hagerstown surgeons spearheading the fight against higher malpractice insurance rates, was two hours long, so I couldn't get all I heard into my Nov. 14 column.

One comment I didn't include came from Caruso, who said that doctors are concerned about how jury polls are changing now that Maryland - as of January 2001 - has begun drawing potential jurors from driver's license lists as well as from the voter rolls.

But both doctors said their decision to seek reform didn't have anything to do with the fact that a local jury returned Washington County's first $1 million malpractice verdict in May of this year. The case was written up in the May 28 issue of The Daily Record, which covers the legal profession in Maryland. The article noted that the award was unusual for "the relatively conservative jurisdiction."

This is going to be the top issue of the 2005 Maryland General Assembly. I'm confident a compromise can be found, if the lawmakers treat it as the crisis it is, as opposed to an opportunity to play to the galleries.

When my children were in Scouts, Little League and soccer, their coaches and Scoutmasters were not top executives of local corporations, but correctional officers, building tradespeople and other blue-collar workers who gave lots of their time to the children for no money at all.

If such good people have to leave Washington County because they can't find a house they can afford, won't this area be much poorer for their loss? Just asking.

This week, The Herald-Mail received a letter from a volunteer at the REACH homeless shelter, taking me to task for my recent column on my trip to look at "hobo camps" along the railroad right of way near Wesel Boulevard.

Why not look at the causes of homelessness, the letter writer asked. In columns which ran on June 29 and July 6 of 2003 I did just that, interviewing homeless people about their lives and why they ended up without shelter.

I'm not arguing in favor of chasing the homeless out of town, particularly if they grew up here.

I am saying that if they're going to be here, they should not be drinking beer on somebody else's private property, but going to counseling, job training and otherwise improving themselves. It is possible to have compassion for the homeless without enabling self-destructive behavior that also causes problems for local police.

(Anyone who wants copies of my previous columns may call 301-791-7622.)

A note to letter writers: When someone is charged with an awful crime, such as the death of a child, please remember that we can't publish a letter saying the suspect is guilty until the trial is over and the verdict is rendered. Thank you.

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