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Council faces complex agenda

June 21, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The newly elected Hagerstown City Council will have its first opportunity tonight to begin making its mark on the city's history with at least a handful of what could be long-lasting decisions.

The council is facing some "major policy issues," City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said Monday.

A new sewer capacity allocation plan, the excise tax, the adequate public facilities ordinance and some sizable land annexations are in the mix.

"They're all significant issues with a lot of work that's led up to the discussions," Zimmerman said. "They've got a brand-new council (and) they've got a lengthy agenda."

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The council is scheduled to record 18 votes tonight. One of the most pressing issues is the Sewer Capacity Allocation Program, which is a plan required by a legally binding agreement between the city and the Maryland Department of the Environment. A vote to approve the plan would meet a July 11 deadline set in the agreement.

The council also is set to introduce the ordinance allowing the city to collect an excise tax on new buildings, as well as a related adequate public facilities ordinance.

The measures are a result of action in this year's General Assembly that allowed Washington County to change the way it collects the building excise tax and to link the ability to build new homes to the amount of space available in county schools through a so-called adequate public facilities ordinance.

Hagerstown must pass legislation to collect the excise tax for the county, but can get a portion of the new county excise tax revenues if it adopts its own adequate public facilities ordinance.

Most of tonight's votes will not set things in stone. For instance, the sewer plan likely will be revised by the state and updated regularly, and the votes on the excise tax and adequate public facilities ordinance would only introduce the measures. More work on them is expected to take place in July, with votes to adopt the measures expected later that month.

City Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said Monday she is looking forward to casting her first votes tonight.

"I expect some issues to be no-brainers and pretty easygoing. There are a few hot-button topics coming up (today) that may or may not be contentious. We'll have to wait and see," Cromer said.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he believed the new council members and the mayor are putting early misunderstandings behind them.

"It'll be a good first (voting) meeting," Metzner said. "I think things are getting better every meeting."

Political activists said they'll be keeping an eye on what the council does.

Corey Stottlemyer, who helped organize the effort to elect a Republican slate of candidates in this year's city elections, said he's watching "the ability for everyone to be able to work together, to keep moving things forward. ... That's what I see as the key issue here."

"I think it's gonna be important. I don't know if the first vote can set a whole trend," Washington County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Rick Hemphill said. "It'll be interesting to see what happens."

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