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Debate over borrowing might pay big dividends for citizens

July 06, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

In the Sunday, July 1, Herald-Mail, former Washington County Commissioner John Schnebly congratulated members of the current county board for their decision to borrow $14.9 million for capital projects.

Schnebly said current Commissioners President John Barr had noted that with inflation of construction costs now running at 10 percent a year, it makes sense to borrow money to do projects at an annual rate of 4.5 percent.

But Schnebly's column provoked a response from Commissioner Kristin Aleshire, the former Hagerstown councilmember who has (so far) not pushed hard for the resolution of any city-county issues.

Judging from Aleshire's July 4 column, that might change.

Aleshire claims that one reason county spending has increased so much is because "of the continual double taxation of municipalities for urban services we as a county feel obligated for some unknown reason to compete to provide rather than pass off to the very entities to which they belong."

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This puts Aleshire at odds with Commissioner James Kercheval, who said he feels there is no need to adjust the tax-differential payments to those municipalities.

Aleshire also notes that for years the county has been taking $3 million a year from the general fund to pay "for a sewer system 80 percent of you will never receive any benefit from."

City officials have argued previously that taking money from the county's general fund for this purpose is unfair, because city residents get no benefit from it, though their taxes pay a large share of that fund.

These issues have festered for years because county government has refused to address them in a way that either would provide some relief or convince city officials that they're wrong to ask for it.

The fear among some city officials was that Aleshire, like other elected officials I could mention, would go into office determined to make a difference, then get ground down or distracted by the press of other county business.

Unless this is an aberration, this seems to be a signal that he will press to get these issues addressed. He should get backing for all those who agree that by working together, the two largest local governments could save money and make a better community.

Is borrowing good? Anyone who has a home mortgage knows that if they had waited until they had enough cash in hand, the property would be priced out of their reach.

What is happening now is that the county government, no longer able to cite a tiny annual growth rate, is paying for not planning ahead and doing projects such as widening Robinwood Drive when such projects would have been much more affordable.

We knew, or should have known, growth was coming, and done more to prepare. Our only consolation might be that old quarrels might be swept aside because of the need to act quickly.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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