MDE- Agreement won't bar city sewer for a new hospital

March 01, 2005|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last month, Hagerstown officials announced what many felt might be the final blow to Washington County Hospital's proposed move to Robinwood.

It came after city officials signed a consent agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment after a series of spills of partially treated sewage into Antietam Creek.

City Water and Sewer Department Manager David Shindle told The Herald-Mail's Greg Simmons that under the agreement, the city is limited to 120,000 gallons of new capacity a year. That's not nearly enough for the new hospital, which will need 240,000 gallons a day.

City law prevents that allocation from being moved from one property to another, Shindle said. Whether state law prohibits such a transfer, he didn't know, Shindle said.


It doesn't, according to Richard McIntire, a public information officer for the MDE.

"That's a city rule," McIntire said.

Even if state law prevented the city from shifting the allocation, McIntire said, the MDE would certainly consider giving the city an exception to the consent agreement's allocation allowance for a public-needs facility such as a hospital.

As long as city officials are making progress on their upgrade of the city's sewer plant, the MDE would consider relaxing that rule, McIntire said.

Hospital CEO James Hamill recently told members of a group supporting the move that hospital officials hadn't applied for needed zoning because they needed a sewer agreement from the city to do that.

Based on what McIntire said, if the city refuses to provide one, it won't be because the state won't allow it, but because city officials refuse to do it.

How much clout does the Washington County Delegation have?

We're about to find out, now that Maryland House Ways and Means Committee Chair Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, has introduced a bill to put local tip jar operations under state control.

The issue first surfaced in 2004 when House Speaker Michael Busch added it to his own version of the slot-machine legalization bill.

State officials probably began salivating over the prospect of finding a new revenue source when Buddy Roogow, head of the Maryland Lottery, told Hixson's committee last February that $78 million was wagered on tip jars here in 2003.

At the time, Washington County Gaming Director Dan DiVito was upset that Roogow had failed to mention that the figure included payouts to players.

Since 1995, more than $20 million has been awarded to local nonprofits, including Washington County's volunteer fire and rescue companies.

The only reason for the state to be involved is to siphon off a share of that cash.

Whatever happened to local courtesy on legislation? How would Hixson react if the local delegation introduced a bill to regulate bingo in her district? She'd blow a fuse, I'd bet.

If Hixson succeeds in taking local dollars and sending them elsewhere, the delegation will have to answer some tough questions about its influence in Annapolis, or lack thereof.

Bob Schleigh, a former Hagerstown city councilman who now serves on the Gaming Commission, took issue with a recent item in Mail Call.

The item took the commission to task for allegedly giving the Humane Society of Washington County more money than the cash-strapped Holly Place, a nonprofit assisted-living facility for the elderly.

Schleigh said that the commission has given the following amounts to both groups:

Humane Society

2001 - $50,000

2002 - $26,348

2003 - $3,000

2004 - $0

In 2002, the Humane Society also got $50,000 for a capital project, Schleigh said.

Holly Place

2001 - $25,000

2002 - $25,000

2003 - $20,000

2004 - $45,000

For those who haven't read about Holly Place and its sister facility, here's the story.

A change in rules designed to prevent for-profit assisted-living facilities from tapping into state subsidies has had the unintended consequence of hurting these local nonprofits.

Del. Christopher Shank, head of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, will meet with state officials today to try to convince them that the Holly Place facilities provide good care, at a cheaper price, than the nursing homes many of their patients will be sent to if this rule change stands.

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