City and county playing chess or divorce games

August 18, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND


My stars, could this be it, could the divorce really be final? Could the City of Hagerstown actually be in danger of losing its codependent governmental spouse, the Washington County Commissioners?

The county said last week it's thinking of leaving downtown Hagerstown for good, taking a collection of five scattered buildings and centralizing them in the old Allegheny Energy headquarters, where no doubt it will build on the financial successes that have historically taken root in that particular edifice.

Whoever would have thought it would come to this? Granted, the two have always fought like wounded cats. Over the years, city and county talks have stalled more times than Danica Patrick. But leave?


I guess it could happen. After all, off the top of my head I can't think of any entity that's ever tried to leave Hagerstown with less than favorable results.

"Leave! You can't leave! You can't just pack up and leave us here with the children, oh no, you get right back here this minute and..." (sound of car fishtailing out of the driveway, spraying gravel up against the side of the trailer.)

I mean, gosh, who's going to be the enabler for the city's raging insecurity complex? Who's going to be there to serendipitously feed their self-destructive anger issues? Who's going to mow their grass?

And in turn, can the County Commissioners make it on their own? At some level, they have to know that standing next to the City Council is the only thing that makes them look good. They might get out in the real world and discover they needed the city as much as the city needed them. They might have trouble getting on without being able to suckle energy from the city's angry shame spiral.

But, well, maybe it's true. Kristin Aleshire, after all, was quoted as saying this about the move: "I don't think it's up to the city to decide whether to support it or not because it's not our decision."

Excuse me, over here, can I get a little help? Someone needs to give me a hand in lifting Jim Hamill's jaw off the floor.

Not our decision? Not our decision? That giant bellowing sound you hear coming from Antietam Street has to be the Washington County Healthcare Coalition getting ready to open a vein. As they've tried to leave the downtown themselves over the past three years, how often have they wanted to hear those three little words emitted from some member of City Hall.

Hospital wants to leave and the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars and throws every piece of office furniture it can find in the way of the process. County wants to move and city says, don't let the zoning appeals door hit you on the way out.

No, no, no, this can't be the city's real feelings. It's just a big game of familial chicken. We've seen this type of behavior before. Husband announces plans to vamoose and the wife, lower lip trembling, turns her back, folds her arms and says "See if I care."

But she cares. Oh, youbetcha yeah, she cares. As the county aviators are walking out the door, they better check their back for in-flight frying pans.

Mark my words, "not our decision" are not the three final words you will have heard on the subject. Keep an eye on the City Hall agenda every week or so for first reading of a new "Local Government Exit Tax Ordinance."

There's one question I definitely want to know the answer to, but I don't want to know it yet, because contemplating the yet-unknown implications are so delicious that I want to savor them for a while: Who handles the sewer flow at the Allegheny Energy site, city or county?

I can just imagine all kinds of naughty little implications in either case. In my dream scenario, it's the city's turf and the city agrees to handle the county sewage - but only if the county annexes its new building back into the city. My second dream scenario, it's the county's turf and the commissioners say, "we have to move out of the city to free up city sewage capacity for the hospital."

I still believe that these two are drawn together by fate. They can't split. What, is the 2 plus 2 Committee going to become the 2 plus 0 Committee? Big deal. Even if the city maintains a two-to-nothing majority, they still won't be able to agree on anything.

I don't think the involved parties are smart enough for this, but I'm secretly hoping it's all one big chess game in an attempt to force the other's hand. City says hospital must deal with county. County says fine, hospital's welcome. City says it's all cool, just so long as we can (hee-hee) get the hospital a sewer hookup. County says, oh that's wonderful, and you know, maybe we'll move out of the downtown. So now it's the city's turn to up the ante, although I'm not sure they possess any more chips.

But hey, as a last resort they can always throw themselves in front of the moving vans.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.
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