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Councilman makes his point on tax issue with delegation

December 15, 2007|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner on Friday tore into members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, saying they haven't done enough to help the city secure its fair share of tax proceeds from the county.

When the two legislative bodies held their annual meeting Friday at City Hall, Metzner said the Washington County Commissioners needed to stop ignoring the city and become more involved in helping fund the proposed expansion of the Washington County Free Library.

He asked the members of the delegation to talk to the commissioners on the council's behalf.

"(It's) obvious the city has no power with the county," Metzner said.

In addition, the council asked the delegation to introduce legislation next year in Annapolis that would require counties to share with municipalities more of the hotel-motel tax.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said the county generated about $1.4 million from the hotel-motel tax last year. Although about 40 percent of that amount was raised in Hagerstown, the city doesn't see a dime unless the county commissioners approve, he said.

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At one point, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, accused Metzner of being too dramatic. Shank said 45 percent of the proceeds from the hotel-motel tax are available to Washington County municipalities to use for marketing.

"That money is out there and that money is available," Shank said.

He urged the council to work more closely with the county to determine how the taxes should be divided.

Metzner informed Shank that the council has been working with the commissioners to no avail.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, and Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said they would explore the issue.

"We will have a very meaningful discussion with the county for commitment," Myers said.

State Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, also attended the meeting. Delegates John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, and Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, did not attend.

Donoghue recently said that meetings with local government representatives are unproductive.

"It certainly would be nice to have all the delegates there," Metzner said after the meeting. "That's the bottom line."

Metzner said the council also has asked the commissioners to help pay for the library project, which has been estimated to cost between $13 million and $16 million.

"(The library) isn't going anywhere unless the county commissioners (do) something besides talk about it," he said.

The city's share to expand the library is $1.25 million in fiscal year 2008 and $250,000 in fiscal year 2009, according to city records.

John F. Barr, president of the county commissioners, said Friday night that the county recently budgeted money to help pay for the library, but he said he didn't know the exact amount. The commissioners also have to worry about funding several road and school construction projects, he said.

"The commissioners are in favor of the library moving forward," Barr said. "It's just one thing at a time."

As far as sharing tax revenue, the council and commissioners need to discuss the issue further, he said.

"The finger-pointing and disappointing comments have to stop," Barr said.

Shank praised the City of Hagerstown for doing more than its fair share to fund the library's proposed expansion, considering the building serves more than just city residents.

"I don't want to be critical of the county, but I hear you," he said.

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