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Mayor, council should repay party's $800

June 05, 2007

With a budget of $157 million, an expenditure of $800 by the Hagerstown city government would usually not be worth worrying about.

A new bumper for a police cruiser would probably cost more than that, especially if the city had a body shop do the installation.

But that bumper would help city police provide an essential city service by protecting the officers inside in the event of a crash.

It's hard to make the same argument for $800 spent in December for a holiday party for the mayor, some councilmembers and an unknown number of city supervisors.

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Councilman Lewis Metzner, who said the event has been going on for more than 10 years, said it was the equivalent of a holiday office party thrown to make employees feel more appreciated.

That sounds good, except that based on expense reports, the entire work force wasn't invited to this shindig. If the mayor and council had cooked up $800 worth of hot dogs and hamburgers for city employees and their families, we would have no problem with that.

Nor would we have a problem with spending a like amount wining and dining officers of a company that might provide jobs here.

That sort of spending is an investment that could pay off in the form of a better lifestyle, not to mention a larger tax base for the city.

City government is holding the line on the property tax rate in the budget just passed, but due to the increase in assessments, tax bills will go up, as will sewer charges.

If taxes were being cut - or truly being held in check by levying them at the "constant yield" rate - perhaps we could look at the $800 party as a bonus to elected officials for performing well.

But the city's deficit is expected to increase in future years - and barring a decision by the Washington County Commissioners to negotiate a fairer share of county tax revenues - taxes will no doubt increase.

It's not that $800 spent on a fancy party will bust the city's budget, it's that such an expenditure provides little or no benefit for the average taxpayer.

The mayor and council should acknowledge that, pass the hat and repay the municipal treasury for this expense. There is no benefit, political or otherwise, to be gained from doing anything else.

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