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Tell us why what we want can't be done

July 20, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

The hub-bub about the closing of the Funkstown bridge is another illustration of the need for elected officials to explain their decisions to citizens.

The historic bridge, which might tumble into the Antietam Creek unless it is repaired and braced up is only one lane, but it's a link between Funkstown and Oak Ridge Drive.

Some merchants on the Oak Ridge Drive side of the bridge fear that closing the span for the estimated five months the project will take could put them out of business.

Led by Steve Demory, owner of Demory's Christmas Memories in the South Pointe Center, some businesspeople pushed for installation of a temporary bridge.

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The State Highway Administration said money for such a bridge was available, making it sound as if all the county government had to do was ask.

But it's not as simple as it sounds. First, a plan has to be drawn up, which might be easy if the terrain were flat on both sides.

It's not. On the Oak Ridge Drive side, the road has steep hills on the right and left.

On the Funkstown side, piers for a temporary bridge would have to be set in the flood plain, which would probably require a review by the Environmental Protection Agency.

And if the property owners objected? That would cause even more delays. The best hope for getting a temporary bridge at the site would be if the old stone bridge collapsed.

I have no doubt that the commissioners knew all of this when they voted 4-0 to seek bids for the project in May, but some were some dithering around when it came time to actually vote to close the bridge.

Neither Commissioner Terry Baker, who voted "no," or Commissioners President John Barr, who abstained, offered a convincing reason for not supporting the project, although Barr did say that the financial aspects and the logistics of a temporary bridge made it impractical.

Left unsaid was the fact that a temporary bridge would waste local money that could be spent on the $20 million Funkstown Bypass, also known as Southern Boulevard.

Why not explain these things to the project's opponents, instead of letting them believe that there was some hope that their point of view would prevail?

It's OK to say no, if you can do it nicely, using facts that can justify your answer.

It also helps if you can identify who's likely to be upset by whatever you're proposing and approach them first. Much of the opposition to various projects in the last few years has come because opponents felt surprised. Opposing the project was a way to say "whoa" before things got rolling too fast to make any changes.

So, to recap, elected officials should consider explaining what government does as part of their duties. To help them do that, I'd like to suggest a few matters that I feel need to be explained. They include:

· Why can't county government cut the property-tax rate, even though assessments have risen at an historic rate?

· If the sheriff's department is considering easing detention-center overcrowding by developing a day-reporting system for non-violent offenders, why wasn't it considered previously as a cost-cutting measure? If they're not locked up all day, then the taxpayers don't have to pay for their meals, do they?

· More than 20 years ago, the City of Hagerstown looked into a process that would have converted methane vented from the sewer plant into gas to run its fleet. With gas prices being what they are, isn't it time to look into that again?

· And while we're revisiting old ideas, can anyone consider merging one or more of the city and county departments?

Note: People I talked to several years ago about city-county mergers told me that police mergers are the toughest. I suspect that's because most elected officials want to be able to call someone if a constituent needs an officer to shut down a rowdy party at 3 a.m.

· It's been five years since consultant Thomas "Rocky" Wade told local officials that the answer to the revitalization of downtown Hagerstown was to create or renovate housing for sale to people with disposal income.

If the developers and builders can't or won't do it, isn't there a way to give would-be homeowners an incentive to do it themselves? Could the city freeze property taxes for five years, if the new homeowners spent, let's say, more than $30,000 on the project?

· With all the hoopla surrounding the creation of the University System of Maryland's downtown campus, why isn't there a more visible marketing campaign to get more students to enroll?

· Could employers who require a certain set of skills be given incentives to locate downtown, where USM student interns could do the work they need done under the supervision of professionals and/or professors?

· On the always unpopular subject of school redistricting, why can't the school system tell couples before their children arrive that their youngsters might have to attend an-out-town school?

In my mind, it follows that if a student and parents never bond with a school, they wouldn't object as much to starting elsewhere.

You get the idea. Tell us how government works, and if some of citizens' ideas - such as closing a bridge - are impractical, tell us why, Nicely, of course.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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