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Mayor, council 'understanding' is welcome, given their agenda

November 08, 2005

The news that Hagerstown's Mayor and City Council have reached what Councilman Lewis Metzner called a "respectful understanding" is most welcome.

Because their meetings are televised, the city's elected officials are the public image of municipal government. If they don't show respect for one another, the council meetings could confirm skeptics' suspicion that government is a source of problems and not solutions.

But more important than putting a good face on government, this body needs to work together on a variety of issues important to the entire region.

They include:

· A proposed flow-transfer agreement that would provide sewage capacity needed for the Washington County Hospital's move to Robinwood.

Under the Washington County government's proposal, the city would get 150,000 gallons of capacity at the county's Conococheague plant in exchange for providing the same amount for the new hospital.

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The council will discuss the matter this evening.

· A central booking facility.

The council recently endorsed this as one of its legislative priorities, but the proposal has been discussed for years.

It would replace the current system, which can tie up an arresting officer for as long as two hours. A new facility could have police back on the street in half an hour.

Not only would it reduce overtime, but it would also maintain a greater police presence on the streets.

The hitch is that it could cost $2 million, only half of which is expected to come from the state. The city government's job is to find the rest, in partnership with the Washington County Commissioners.

· Operating funds for the downtown campus of the University System of Maryland. We hope the time will come when this won't be a annual legislative battle, but this year city and county officials must both make sure they lobby hard for the necessary cash.

In a related development, the nonprofit Magnolia Foundation recently asked the city to donate $25,000 for scholarships at the USM facility. According to a foundation official, 70 percent of the students who attend need financial aid, as opposed to the national average of 46 percent.

The council agreed to consider the donation for next year's budget. It should be included, but both city and county officials and the business community should look at creating an annual fundraiser for this purpose, with proceeds going to an endowment overseen by the Community Foundation of Washington County.

To touch on another priority, the only way many local people will be able to afford to own homes will be if they attend college or receive advanced training of some sort. Making that happen should be just as high on local governments' priority lists as paving roads and providing police service.

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