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City, county must work together on regulations

February 09, 2006

The Hagerstown City Council's doubts about enacting an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance just to get a share of county excise taxes need to be resolved quickly, for several reasons.

The first is that both governments should be working to standardize the requirements for development. Creating a separate impact fee within the city limits would not only be confusing from an economic-development standpoint, but could also lead to what we've seen previously - developers trying to play the two governments against each other.

When it comes to development, the two governments need to present a unified front for the benefit of the citizens of both jurisdictions.

The second reason to oppose a separate fee structure is that it would raise another obstacle to a combined city-county permits and inspections department. Such a move would save money and clear up much of the confusion about what is allowed where.

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But the most important reason to seek agreement on this issue is linked to what the council fears most - that lack of capacity in schools will stop development in the city.

The truth is that the city will be revitalized only when schools in the municipality are perceived as top-notch.

The school system has launched a major effort to improve education and test scores at Bester Elementary. That effort will be made much more difficult if the school is overcrowded with a batch of new students.

As we have said on a number of other issues, this cannot be the first time a Maryland municipal government has faced such a problem. With the help of the Maryland Municipal League, the council should look at which cities have dealt with a lack of school capacity and "borrow" their solutions.

The Washington County government also needs to act. Members of the council said that they delivered a draft of their proposed APFO in July, but haven't yet heard back from the commissioners.

That's a long time, especially considering that the 2-plus-2 committee - two commissioners and two members of the council - meet regularly on issues of mutual interest.

If the council's "go it alone" talk is just a ploy to get the commissioners to address their proposal, that would make sense.

What wouldn't make sense is for the city to go its own way because elected officials in both governments weren't willing to compromise on this vital matter.

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