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My information comes from public records

October 15, 2005|By Tom Immer

Hagerstown Councilman Kristen Aleshire is certainly right about one thing - a misinformed public is worse than an uninformed or, worse yet, an under-informed public. The information I use to produce my letters basically come from two documents published over the years by our city government, except where I feel a comparison with other jurisdictions is necessary; then I use the Internet to get that information.

Those Hagerstown documents are titled the city's "Comprehensive Annual Financial Report" and the "City Administrator's Budget Message." These documents take months to produce, and if I have misinformed the public then maybe council members Lew Metzner, Penny Nigh and Aleshire should look into the accuracy of those documents or provide additional information.

The 2004 "Comprehensive Annual Financial Report" is a book of about 100 pages chock full of useful information. It is the audited documentation of the city's income, expenses, assets and liabilities such as the unfunded pension liability that grew from approximately $4.8 million in 2000 to almost $19 million as of July 1, 2003.

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I don't know why the 2004 financial report did not update this very big liability through the date of the report, which takes about six months after the close of the fiscal year to complete. This document also discloses that the city also has committed to make this unfunded liability go away over a period of 23 or 33 years, depending on which of the two city pension plans are being paid down. During this time the city also must continue to pay at least $6 million in employee benefits each year, every year. A free copy of this report can be had at City Hall by any interested city citizen.

Aleshire claims that the "Budget Message" is a summary of a much larger document that he says I obviously skipped. This document is 29 pages long for the 2005-2006 fiscal year. It is not anywhere identified as a summary.

I direct Aleshire's attention to that portion of the document entitled "Threats that cannot be overlooked," and specifically to the statements made there. I also direct any interested city citizen to go to the city's Web site and view the document for themselves or get a free copy down at City Hall. You can also view both of the above documents at the government room of the public library. You can draw your own conclusions from these documents.

I have never claimed to have all of the answers to the city's problems, as Aleshire avers. I do believe that I have merely pointed out that the light at the end of the tunnel could be the oncoming train that the past several administrations have ignored. The present administration's members seem to be more interested in fighting among themselves than in solving any problems.

Aleshire then goes on to argue that they did not sell out to the county, citing four years of litigation over the city's annexation policy as the proof. Litigation against a public corporation is usually the result of a poorly written or a badly implemented policy. Done correctly, there is nothing to litigate.

Further, the city's own census figures show that I am correct in saying the growth over the last 20 years has averaged six persons per year in the city, which, unlike Aleshire's projection of 10,000 over the next 10 years, is a real number, not a guesstimate.

Infiltration and inflow (I&I) of waste water may have been a problem in two of the last five years when rainfall exceeded the norm by quite a bit. However, during that same time (2000-04) the city added 714 sewer accounts in the county and 483 in the city, so I&I clearly is not most of the problem. Incidentally, I have been unable to determine if the city or the county gets the hookup fees for those out of city limits accounts.

That brings me to my statement that annexation may be a no-win proposition for the city. If the county has already been paid all the associated development and other fees in an area later annexed by the city, can the city recoup any portion of those fees because it must now provide sewer, water and other services to those areas at a lower fee? If not, it is a no-win proposition for the city.

Tom Immer is a resident of Hagerstown.

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