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Delegation, council discuss issues for 2006

December 03, 2005|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

Three state legislators from Washington County listened Friday morning as members of the Hagerstown City Council expressed concerns over rapid suburban development and a legislative initiative to make it harder for cities to annex land.

Each year, the city tells members of the delegation what it wants out of the 2006 Maryland General Assembly before the new legislative session begins. The city hopes its requests will end up on the governor's budget proposal in January.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and Delegates Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, and John P. Donoghue, D-Washington attended the meeting.

Securing state money for a central booking facility and the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown are among the items on the city's wish list, though most of the discussion revolved around growth and revitalization.

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Eminent domain has become a big issue since the Supreme Court ruled that governments had the right to take private land for public use. Council members and the Maryland Municipal League feared public backlash to the ruling would erode local governments' existing rights to acquire land and property.

The council opposed the Maryland Association of Counties' (MaCo) push for legislation that would limit the city's ability to annex land and claimed such legislation would keep the city from generating needed revenue.

At the meeting, the city's' planning director, Kathleen Maher, said growth of the suburbs has taken away tax revenue and has exacerbated social issues, such as poverty, in Hagerstown, Maher said.

"People forget that as the growth was going on, it's been passing the city," Maher said after the meeting.

Shank said annexation laws needed clarification and said MaCo had the wrong attitude toward eminent domain.

Eminent domain and annexation also are key legislative priorities for the Maryland Municipal League, which also opposes the MaCo initiative.

Shank said the state still is on board to fund a third of the engineering costs for improvements at the Dual Highway-Edgewood Drive intersection. The city, county and state each have agreed to pay a third of the cost, though the amount of each group's contribution still is being discussed, Shank said.

Shank said he was unable to provide the total construction and engineering costs because they still are being tabulated.

Munson said improving the intersection was an important part of the city's broader revitalization efforts.

"Route 40 is the main entrance into the city," Munson said. "If we produce something that's not reasonably attractive, it's going to diminish us as a community. We don't want an ugly entrance to Hagerstown."

Munson also urged the city to step up its efforts to open a school for the arts downtown, calling the move critical to the revitalization of downtown Hagerstown. Munson already has secured $400,000 in state bond funds for the multimillion-dollar project.

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