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State of the city's revenues

March 09, 2006

Tuesday's "State of the City" presentation gave those who attended more news than most could quickly absorb about the good things happening in Hagerstown.

A video presentation offered the following bits of positive news:

The city's assessable base is growing, as are its cash reserves.

Its annual debt service and debt per-capita are well below the city's guidelines.

Redevelopment of the downtown area, in both the residential and commercial sectors, is proceeding rapidly.

But the city's elected officials were also candid about the need for more revenue.

During a February budget retreat, the council learned that fire officials are seeking 19 new positions, due in part to a 22.8 percent increase in the number of square miles the department covers. In addition, the number of emergency calls has increased by 60 percent, according to Chief Gary Hawbaker.

The police department is asking for nine positions and a wage study found that the city is underpaying its workers by as much as 40 percent.

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The additional personnel would cost at least $1.3 million and the overall salary adjustment would require $4.8 million. Even though some of this can be implemented over two or three years, millions in new revenue will be needed, with property taxes the most likely source.

As we have said previously, city government cannot increase the property tax rate every year, as it has done four out of the last five years. That could discourage investment and home ownership, as would-be residents and business prospects ponder when the cycle of tax hikes will end.

One obvious source of revenue would be to get the county government to increase the tax differential payment it gives Hagerstown for county services city residents support through their taxes, but don't get the benefit of.

For a number of years, the county has been using general fund money - much of which is provided by city taxpayers - to subsidize some county residents' sewer rates.

Councilman Lewis Metzner said the county commissioners have refused to budge on that point. And so, he said, the council has stopped pushing for a change.

Here's our recommendation: In this year's election, no city resident should vote for a commissioner candidate who doesn't back a change in this unfair policy. Perhaps city residents can make progress where the council can't.

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