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City officials: Business/council rift starting to heal

March 08, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

The healing has begun.

So said Hagerstown Councilman Lew Metzner, while speaking to guests of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce at Tuesday's annual "State of the City" presentation.

Mayor Robert Bruchey and four members of the council - Metzner, Kristin Aleshire, Penny Nigh and Kelly Cromer - appeared at Hagerstown's Clarion before 200 attendees, who saw a video presentation of the city's accomplishments, followed by a question-and-answer session that was refreshingly candid.

Metzner's statement about "healing" came after a question from the chamber's Government Affairs Committee about how the business community can help the council.

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"A good start has already occurred," Metzner said, noting that "a year ago, a lot of the folks up here didn't have a lot of support from the folks down there."

Since then, Metzner said, people in both groups have reached out and made efforts to bring everyone together to work for the good of the city and its citizens.

Some members of the previous council were convinced that the business community had supported a slate headed by now departed Mayor Richard "Dick" Trump. But city officials who spoke Tuesday emphasized they're ready to let bygones be bygones.

In answer to the same question, Aleshire said that there's been much talk about how the city's annexation policy can harm economic development.

That need not be, he said, "as long as the city is at the table at the beginning of the process."

Other items addressed include:

  • Asked what is the most critical issue facing the city, Bruchey said "public safety." New positions in the city's fire and police agency will be needed and they won't be cheap, he said.

  • Aleshire warned that the city's water and sewer resources are limited and said a real plan for their use is needed.

  • On possible consolidation of government services, Metzner said that while it is "nice and politically correct to talk about it," there is no real demand for it.

    If there were, he said, there would already be a metropolitan police force. Advocating that now would go over "like a lead balloon," he said.

  • Asked about the city's commitment to upgrading the Dual Highway/Edgewood Drive intersection, Bruchey said, "I do believe the city has decided it will contribute."

    Judging from other city officials' comments, how much is uncertain. Once it was suggested that the state, county and city governments each pay a third, but Aleshire noted that city taxpayers already pay county taxes.

    The project will be evaluated as part of the city budget process, he said.

  • Asked what would persuade city government to join an advocacy group recently formed to lobby in Annapolis for local issues, Metzner had a short answer.

    "I think an invitation would be a nice way to start," he said, adding that the council "would have loved to have been there" during a recent lobbying trip to the state capital.

  • Asked if the city's "quality of life" assets, such as The Maryland Theatre, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, could be used to promote Hagerstown, city officials noted that council support of all of these has been strong.

    Metzner said the "No. 1 way we can partner together is to bring that school (the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts) on line as quickly as possible."

  • Asked about a possible new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, Metzner said that question would be better directed to the state delegation because the state would be providing most of the money.

    Bruchey noted that since the 1999 study of the proposed stadium/business park combination facility at Salem Avenue and Interstate 81, the city has spent as much on upgrades of Municipal Stadium - $700,000 in five years, Aleshire said - as it would have spent as its share of a new stadium.

    Bruchey said he wasn't a proponent or opponent of a new stadium, but was just pointing out a fact.

    Aleshire said that months ago he got a phone call indicating that the Suns "were possibly going in another direction."

    He didn't have permission to release any more than that, he said, but said he felt that until that becomes public, discussion is premature.

  • Asked whether the "two-plus-two" committee had been able to persuade county government to increase its tax differential payment to compensate city residents for the commissioners' use of their tax dollars to subsidize county residents' sewer rates, Metzner said no. The commissioners won't bend and the council has decided to go in another direction to try to accomplish the same thing, he said.

  • Council member Alesia Parson-McBean did not attend because of a family illness. Council member Penny Nigh attended, but did not join other elected officials onstage.


Bob Maginnis is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Mail.




Editor's note: A longer version of this column will appear later this week on Maginnis' blog at www.hagerstownblogs.com.

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