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City officials see good in 2007 session

April 07, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Not everything on the city of Hagerstown's wish list for the 2007 Maryland General Assembly session - which is scheduled to end Monday - has come true.

Still, some city officials like what they've seen.

Money for two high-priority projects tentatively was included in the state budget.

A taxing issue dear to the Hagerstown City Council was publicly aired, although a bill addressing it died in a House committee.

"I feel better this year than I have in other years," Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said.

In December, the city put forward eight requests to Del. John P. Donoghue, whose district roughly matches Hagerstown's borders.

The city asked for a share of county tax revenue generated in the city. It wanted to curtail an imbalance caused by double taxation - city and county - of city residents.

It called for a change to a state policy of releasing paroled inmates by taking them to a bus station near Hagerstown and giving them money for a ticket home.

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The city sought funding for the Community Free Clinic, the Holly Place senior citizens' home, the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts and a police central booking facility.

Finally, the city wanted state support for the Washington County Free Library's planned downtown expansion.

At the end of the legislative session, some gains are clear and others are less so.

Central booking money - $1.4 million - stayed in the budget.

A bond bill requesting $300,000 for the school for the arts was cut to $150,000, but survived.

A bond bill not on the city's list - money for the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts - also reached the state budget, also at $150,000.

Central booking and the school for the arts were "very high up on the list," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

Metzner also praised a state bill unforeseen in December: Letting municipalities add 1 percentage point to the local hotel tax. He called the bill, which came out of Montgomery County, a good fit with the city's search for revenue other than property taxes.

The closest thing to a failure has been a bill to turn Washington County's annual voluntary tax rebates to municipalities into a requirement. It also called for municipalities to get back all county recordation and transfer tax revenue generated in those municipalities.

Without support from the county's delegation, the bill got stuck in committee. However, Donoghue, Bruchey and Metzner said the bill's purpose was to stir up debate.

"The city is entitled to seek out some of these items ... (go) after some of the revenue in the city," said Councilman Martin E. Brubaker, who was glad the bill was introduced.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he's optimistic the prisoner release procedure will change soon. He said the answer might be creating a Division of Correction transportation unit to take convicts to prisons close to their hometowns before releasing them.

"They need to go back to where they came from," Bruchey said.

Bruchey, a former correctional officer, said the DOC already has a facility in Baltimore with its own transportation unit.

The city sought state "support" for the library expansion project. The aim, though, was "trying to set the stage" for the project in the future, rather than get money this year, Brubaker said.

Local officials are after state money because a regional library system is housed at the county's downtown branch.

Central booking, prisoner release changes and the library also are priorities this year for a Washington County public and private coalition with its own lobbyist. The city is part of the coalition.

The other two issues on Hagerstown's wish list - the Community Free Clinic and Holly Place - got little attention during the 2007 legislative session.

Both situations are uncertain, said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Donoghue noted that a new state Department of Health & Mental Hygiene administration is settling in. Also, with a looming state deficit, money was tight, he said.

Shank, the delegation chairman heading into this year's session, said he wasn't told about Hagerstown's full legislative list.

As the 2007 session neared, the mayor and city council met only with Donoghue instead of the entire delegation, which had been the tradition. Munson was invited, but couldn't attend.

Bruchey took the blame. He said a meeting with the full delegation was canceled because he had to take his wife to a doctor in Bethesda, Md.

Meeting with Donoghue and Munson, the city's direct representatives, was the next best thing, Bruchey said.

"It wasn't meant to sleight anybody," he said.

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