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So what's the next step?

July 20, 2006

Now that it's done, it seems like a simple, sensible idea - send sewage flow that would ordinarily go to an overburdened treatment plant to one with excess capacity.

But even though this good idea was accompanied by some grant assistance from the State of Maryland, it took more time than most expected for the Hagerstown and Washington County governments to agree.

We hope that Tuesday's dedication will be the first step toward a future in which the first thought of every local elected official is: How will what we're planning benefit every county resident?

What exactly was dedicated? A pipe called an interceptor, which runs from Hopewell Road near the Tractor Supply Co. distribution center to a pump station at Western Maryland Parkway near the Washington County Detention Center.

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The $1.73 million project will not only bring in additional revenue for city and county systems, but it will also free up additional capacity at the city's sewage treatment plant.

That's important because it will increase the city's ability to direct development to areas that already have municipal services.

That puts the brakes on sprawl development, which costs taxpayers more because services - schools, law enforcement and the like - must be extended.

What hasn't been settled is what held up yesterday's dedication for three years - the question of the city's annexation policy.

City officials wanted those who received city water and/or sewer service to sign pre-annexation agreements that said, in effect, if the city's boundaries ever extend out this far, you will agree to be annexed and pay city taxes.

That policy was the subject of a lawsuit, which didn't produce the total victory that either government was looking for. The judge ruled that in those areas where the city had previously agreed to provide services, it could not now add new conditions.

But, the judge said, in those areas not covered by any agreement, the city is free to require a pre-annexation agreement. Developers who don't like the idea are free to go elsewhere.

For the Tractor Supply distribution center, following some negotiations, the city government agree to waive the agreement. But the county's economic development officials don't want such uncertainty hanging over future projects.

We suggest a compromise: In exchange for waiving the pre-annexation agreement, give the city a share of the taxes the new firm would pay.

It's time to stop thinking about how one side can prevail and concentrate on how both governments - and all of the citizens who they represent - can win.

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