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County mulls moving offices out of Hagerstown

August 11, 2005|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners have begun preliminary discussions about leaving five buildings in the City of Hagerstown and moving the majority of the county's departments to the former Allegheny Energy corporate headquarters on Downsville Pike.

"We're just in the beginning stages of even looking at it," Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said Wednesday.

Nipps said the commissioners are going through a "fact-finding" process to determine whether a move would be beneficial for the county.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he thinks consolidating county offices into one facility would save money and that county operations would be more efficient in one central location.

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The former Allegheny site is on 49 acres at 10435 Downsville Pike outside city limits. Nipps said the property consists of the corporate headquarters and surrounding land.

The property has recently changed hands. Allegheny Energy announced May 20 it sold the corporate site, along with its 320-acre Friendship Technology Park, to Oak Ridge XVII LLC.

Munson said the county would have to negotiate a sale with Oak Ridge. He didn't know an exact figure on a possible sale price, but he said that an early estimate being discussed by the county is $8 million.

"I think it's a good idea myself," Munson said of moving to the former Allegheny site.

Three of the buildings the county would leave are in downtown Hagerstown.

They are:

  • The County Administration Building at 100 W. Washington St., which houses the commissioners' offices, meeting room and other high-level county offices

  • The Washington County Administrative Annex at 80 W. Baltimore St., where the permits and inspections, engineering and planning offices are located

  • The County Office Building at 33 W. Washington St., which houses Emergency Services and other county offices.



The other two buildings that might be left are home to the Highway Department at 601 Northern Ave. and the Transportation Department at 1000 W. Washington St.

Nipps said consolidating county offices into one building might cost some money in the short term, but the county would look into whether money would be saved in the long run.

"We'll see," she said. "You never know until you look at it."

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said the matter was "hardly worth commenting on at this point," because it's still in the early stages.

He said the county wants to determine whether a move would make sense.

"It depends on the building, the square footage and what or what couldn't be moved," Wivell said. "In the long term, it could be cost-beneficial."

Wivell said he didn't know how much it costs the county to operate from different buildings around the city, but those expenses would probably be part of a feasibility study on a possible move. He said the commissioners charged County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop with doing the analysis.

Munson said he thought moving to the former Allegheny property would save the county in maintenance costs because it would be cheaper to maintain one central building rather than five in the city.

He also said a move would make county operations more efficient because county employees wouldn't have to run back and forth to different buildings for meetings. There also would be more room for employee and customer parking at the former Allegheny property, Munson said.

Hagerstown City Council members Kristin B. Aleshire and Lewis C. Metzner said Wednesday it was too early to comment on a possible pullout by the county.

Aleshire said he didn't know the county was considering a move, and Metzner said he became aware of it recently.

"I don't think it's up to the city to decide whether to support it or not, because it's not our decision," Aleshire said.

He said the city would probably consider the effects the county leaving might have on Hagerstown, but "beyond that, that's a function of the county to make that decision."

Munson said the city might benefit if the county leaves. The county, because it's a government agency, isn't paying taxes on the property it owns in the city, Munson said.

"It might be an advantage to the City of Hagerstown, because those buildings will be put back on the tax rolls," Munson said.

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