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Some issues facing the next Hagerstown City Council

June 25, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

Recently, when the Hagerstown City Council decided to cut the city property tax rate by a penny, there were those who described it as a meaningless gesture.

Finance Director Alfred Martin said it would only save the owner of a house assessed at $100,000 about $10 a year, but would cost the city treasury $300,000.

I applaud the gesture, because, as I've been writing for several years now, the city government cannot continue to raise property taxes every year and hope to keep the upper-middle-class residents it needs to prosper.

But it bothers me that this was not a well-thought-out strategy, but something that Councilman Lew Metzner sprang on his colleagues at the last minute. In effect, he dared them to vote against cutting taxes - and a majority didn't.

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The vote got me to thinking about the next city election and so I ran back through The Herald-Mail archives and looked at the issues that councilmembers themselves described as important for the council to accomplish. They include:

· Improving the image of the Jonathan Street corridor, the heart of Hagerstown's African-American Community.

To that end, a major upgrade of the street's utilities is under way and a number of renovations of houses facing the street are ongoing.

My suggestion: Find a suitable location for the memorabilia collected by the late Marguerite Doleman.

Her collection included many examples of how manufacturers used African-Americans' images to sell products. Such a facility might also be used to tell the history of Hagerstown's African-American community, including such institutions as the North Street School.

· A Central Booking facility, which would allow officers to process suspects quickly and return to the streets. Not only would it cut overtime hours, but it would increase police coverage.

On that issue, state money has been committed for planning and this year Sheriff Doug Mullendore put money for construction and additional personnel to staff the facility into his budget.

It will be up to city officials to craft a way to get suspects to the facility, which will be built near the detention center.

· A new revenue-sharing agreement with the county. The next council must include someone who can negotiate for this.

At this year's "State of the City" presentation, Mayor Robert Bruchey was asked if there were a plan to share revenue from annexed areas between city and county.

Mayor Bruchey said that in 2006, the two governments had been close to a deal, but "somewhere along the line, things fell apart."

Unless there has been a secret agreement of which I'm unaware, that means that whenever the county has a prospect for its Hopewell Valley business park area, the prospective tenant can't be told - with any certainty - whether or not it will have to pay city property taxes now or in the future.

It's been several years since consultant Thomas "Rocky" Wade told the council that the time for studies was over. It was time to do something, he said.

What he proposed - and what the Greater Hagerstown Comittee endorsed - was the idea of encouraging families with disposable income to live in the city, by renovating old properties or building new ones.

In September 2004, the Hagers-town Neighborhood Development Partnership Inc. announced it would obtain land on Baltimore Street for the construction of 20 to 30 town houses.

Because of the housing slump, it hasn't happened yet. The next council has to make it happen, because if the central city remains a place where many who live there are only getting by, there won't be much support for the businesses the city hopes to attract.

· Revitalizing the city's economic-development effort. Part of the deal to retain Karen Giffin in city government was to give her some experience in this area.

Giffin has a track record of making things happen, which is why city officials, mistakenly in my view, put too many things on her plate. Giffin has made many contacts in her job and none of them to my knowledge, have been dissatisfied. It's time to get her to the point where can work her magic on more important matters.

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

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