Ehrlich comes to town to announce cash awards

August 26, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

Gov. Robert Ehrlich and members of his cabinet announced 12 separate cash awards Thursday that will benefit Washington County redevelopment projects, police and other community programs.

The total amount announced was about $3.2 million, which included $652,000 in previously announced historic preservation tax credits. The largest award was a $1.8 million grant to the Washington County Community Partnership for Children & Families.

The governor's two-day trip through Western Maryland is drawing fire from the state Democratic Party as the 2006 elections near, although local Republican leaders say they are pleased with the results from the administration.


While the announcements had been expected, officials who are in charge of the recipient organizations said the money will go far.

"We were really hoping and praying for this money," said Scott Hesse, a Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown elder.

A $50,000 grant that will help offset roof replacement costs at the South Prospect Street church was announced.

Ehrlich, flanked by officials from the state departments of planning and housing and community development, addressed the crowd of more than 100 local politicians, officials, and business and community leaders in Hagerstown's Public Square.

He discussed improving economic conditions, programs in his administration that promote downtown redevelopment and better overall land use.

"This is a hot state," Ehrlich said, citing a 4 percent unemployment rate and recent military realignment decisions that will shift jobs to Maryland.

He said his administration has been successful in guiding growth, but "we need to deal with the issues and pressures brought about by the success in our state."

Ehrlich, a Republican, said a "brownfields" law passed in the General Assembly two years ago with guidance from his administration will help urban redevelopment for polluted, problematic industrial sites. He also said improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay should be a priority.

Ehrlich's so-called "flush tax" took effect in January. The money raised from the $2.50 per month fee to customers of sewer systems and $30 annually to septic system users is to be used to pay for water pollutant-reduction programs.

He also mentioned his Priority Places program, which he said focuses "growth back into our historic, our beautiful towns."

The program has been discussed in connection with the proposed East End project in Hagerstown. After his comments, Ehrlich said there are no specific plans yet for the project, but there are many state programs available that could help it along, including the Priority Places program.

Maryland Democratic Party spokesman Derek Walker, reached on his mobile phone, criticized the Ehrlich administration's land-use and growth policies and said the trip is only a ploy to raise his image as the election nears.

Walker cited plans publicized last year that would sell public land to developers and an Allegheny County housing development known as Terrapin Run that, Walker said, does not provide adequate public facilities.

"He's totally turned the whole idea of smart growth on its head," Walker said.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Washington County Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank, both Republicans, praised the administration for its attention to Washington County and Western Maryland.

Regarding the cash announcements, Snook said, "It will all go to a good cause, as far as whether it be housing, preservation - and it was widely distributed throughout the whole community," Snook said.

Shank also defended the governor.

"I think that this is unlike the governor's predecessors, and unlike the Democratic Party," Shank said. "This governor cares about Washington County."

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