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County, city closer to deal on growth rules

February 15, 2006|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

Two members of the Hagerstown City Council and a Washington County commissioner brokered a tentative deal Sunday that could allow the city to maintain substantial control over its rate of growth while continuing to receive county excise taxes.

City Council members Lewis C. Metzner and Kristin B. Aleshire reached the agreement with James F. Kercheval during a private meeting. The three announced the agreement during a council work session Tuesday that was attended by the commissioners and county staff members.

The city must still draft an ordinance upon which the council and the commissioners need to agree, but Metzner said he felt the primary obstacle dividing the bodies - trust - has been resolved. Metzner said he felt the agreement represents a pivotal shift in relations between the county and city.

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"This is a document that is dependent upon trust," Metzner said. "This (ordinance) that we're about to do is based on one thing, and it wasn't in existence for many years (between the county and city), and that is trust. ... Are we willing to trust each other enough to do this, and the answer is, hopefully, yes."

The county asked municipalities to adopt Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances (APFOs) similar to one the county adopted in 1990 and has made amendments to as recently as last summer. The ordinance contains growth regulations intended to help ensure schools, roads, and other public services and facilities are adequate to handle growth. The regulations are tied to municipalities' access to county excise tax funding.

Metzner said the biggest issue during Sunday's meeting was whether the county or city should have the right to allow development projects in the city that would not normally be allowed. Because of capacity issues at the city's schools, the county's APFO could prevent some projects from moving forward. Metzner said while the city cannot approve exceptions to that, the proposed agreement would let the city sanction some modifications to allow those projects. He said the county would have the right to reject the modifications, but only if it has reasonable concerns to do so.

Kercheval said he understands the city is concerned about redevelopment projects within the city, and he believes the county can keep that in mind when the city tries to advance projects that might not specifically be allowed under the county's APFO.

"What we can do is to try to not look at those things too heavy-handedly," he said, noting that the county needs to balance those things with overcrowding issues at the city's schools.

The city would have needed to adopt an ordinance by March 1 to receive 28 percent of the excise taxes the county has collected in the city since last July - about $476,000, according to city records. Metzner said Tuesday the city cannot hope to meet that deadline.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the county is willing to grant the city an extension as long as it drafts an ordinance and sends it to the county for approval as quickly as possible.

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