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Reader Opinion

September 03, 2005

Opportunities for our community's future



By Edward H. Lough, James D. Latimer and Charles Shindle

In the near future, there are numerous opportunities for our community to grow and become an even better place to live. Our local governments, the City of Hagerstown and Washington County, with help from the business community, support from citizens-at-large and labor and management, need to move in a positive forward-looking direction. The following are some opportunities:

OPPORTUNITY 1. All communities face the dilemma of inadequate "affordable housing" or "workforce housing." In our community, the cost of an affordable/workforce housing unit based upon median family income, ranges between $90,000 and $150,000 dollars. Most current housing units in that price range are not considered "nice." Local governments can target redevelopment areas, using bonding authority in coordination with local builders and banks, purchase distressed properties and convert the properties for resale into nice affordable/workforce housing.

Precedents for this type of effort include public/private partnerships like the Hagerstown Neighborhood Development Partnership already established in the city. Also, zoning restrictions placed on new developments can require that a percentage of new units be priced in the affordable/workforce housing range. Montgomery County, Md., and several counties in Virginia have been successful using this approach. We do not need to "reinvent the wheel." We just need the political will and vision to move forward in this area.

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OPPORTUNITY 2. Why not have a new baseball stadium in our community? Are we in Washington County less deserving than others in Maryland? Of course we are not. On Aug. 5, Maryland state government representatives met with local government leaders and members of the business community. These state representatives openly mentioned one-third state funding for a new baseball stadium and the current owners of the Hagerstown Suns have pledged millions of dollars to build a new stadium. Other state representatives mentioned the availability of state loan guarantees for economic- development projects. Why not build a new baseball stadium? The time is right; we need the leadership and vision to move forward.

OPPORTUNITY 3. Over the past two and one-half years, the community has lost sight of the simple fact that it needs a new/modern hospital. Factions have argued over bridges and roads, water/sewer capacity, construction costs, potential lawsuits and any number of other issues related to, but not specific to the simple fact - we need a new/modern hospital. Roads and bridges will have to be built or improved to handle different traffic patterns. Water/sewer capacity, of which there is a sufficient amount when you look at the community as a whole, will have to be reallocated and managed. Construction costs continue to rise every day we delay solving the simple problem of building a new/modern hospital that is needed for this community.

The opportunity is still available; we need to unite as a community, address the simple fact that we need a new/modern hospital and get this project done.

OPPORTUNITY 4. The East End of Hagerstown, approximately 75 to 100 acres, is a prime location for a major redevelopment effort. Key to this redevelopment is utilizing the 13 acres of land currently occupied by the Washington County Hospital. Today those 13 acres account for no (zero) property tax revenue for the community. The Washington County Health System, in its proposal to move the hospital to Robinwood, has agreed to demolish the current hospital buildings and return the 13 acres to "developable space," if that's deemed appropriate. These 13 acres can be redeveloped into a property tax revenue-producing project. Estimates put the increased property tax revenue for the community between $2 million and $3 millioannually. Regardless of exactly what the revenue income is for the community - it is greater than the zero dollars in revenue the community gets today. This project is just one more opportunity for the community to benefit from redevelopment.

OPPORTUNITY 5. Our community's water/sewer authorities are an area to "fix" not "fight." The city freely admits that its sewer system is broken. Long- time residents of the city agree that it has been broken for many years. Other local municipalsewer systems and/or water systems are also broken or in need of updating.

Conversely, the county's sewer system is considered by some to have excess capacity. Is this not an opportunity to consolidate water/sewer services in the entire community into one water/sewer authority? It just does not make sense for disparate authorities to "fight" for the same money or environmental permitting (local, state or federal) to validate an individual system when consolidation of authorities may be a step to "fix" the entire problem for the community.

The above five opportunities are only the surface of the opportunities available to this community. We call on government, business, citizens-at-large, labor and management to work hand-in-hand to move these opportunities forward to become successes for our community.

The spirit and intent of this letter is a call for action by the entire community to make this a better place to live and work.

Edward H. Lough
James D. Latimer
Charles Shindle

(Editor's note: The three authors are members of the coalition promoting a new hospital at Robinwood, but are writing this letter as private citizens.)

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