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Some succeed against economic struggles

August 01, 2009|By ARNOLD PLATOU

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- First, the good news.

Austin McKee, the Hancock man laid off from Rayloc last year, as well as Hagerstown newlyweds Patrick and Lauren Smith Thomas have gotten jobs or are very close.

Matt and Allison Weaver, who put their Halfway rancher up for sale last winter when the market was looking particularly gloomy, have sold the house.

The 200 employees at Williamsport Retirement Village, who gave up more than 2 percent of their pay for several months, have gotten small bonuses.

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But then, the larger presence of the recession still looms.

"It certainly hasn't gotten any better," said John Barr, who owns Ellsworth Electric Inc. and has about 200 employees in Hagerstown and Chambersburg, Pa. "We're still doing everything in our power to retain everyone. We're bidding anything and everything. Not getting much. Seems like there's a lot of desperation out there."

To Bill Massa, chief executive officer of Clean Earth Inc., which had 16 or 17 employees at its recycling operation near Funkstown in March, things have gotten even more bleak.

"Unfortunately, we have only seen the economy get worse," Massa said. "... We just have had to make some deeper cuts over this last month or two when it became clear the economy was not coming back any time soon."

Clean Earth has had to lay off "a significant percentage" of its local workers, Massa said, declining to be more specific.

To see how they're doing now, The Herald-Mail contacted many of the local people whose economic stories it has told over the past year as we grappled with the recession.

So, whatever happened to ...?

Nancy Shulley

You met Shulley in March, when she found herself in the "nightmare" of being caught between a mortgage she couldn't afford and a sale her lender's insurer wouldn't approve.

"The house is still sitting there," Shulley said recently. She moved out of the two-story brick house at 114 E. Irvin Ave. in Hagerstown late last summer.

Although she stopped paying the mortgage soon afterward, Shulley said she hasn't heard anything from the lender, U.S. Bank. Last December, its attorneys threatened foreclosure.

But, as of early July, the bank still hadn't filed for foreclosure, according to the clerk of the court's office at Washington County Circuit Court. A spokeswoman at U.S. Bank's headquarters in Minnesota declined to comment.

The house remained vacant.

Shulley, a research associate at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Md., bought the house in 2005 for $191,000. She refinanced the mortgage twice and, after being unable to sell the house in 2008, thought she got U.S. Bank's OK to sell it for $148,300.

Then, after moving out, she learned U.S. Bank had insurance against such losses and the insurer wouldn't approve the sale unless Shulley agreed to pay back part of the claim. When she refused, the insurer refused to approve the sale.

Shulley complained to the Maryland Insurance Administration about the insurer's demand.

"It's like they're holding my house for ransom," she said.

By mid-July, the agency still hadn't issued a decision.

"I understand that it is our intention to issue a determination in the next couple of weeks," spokeswoman Karen Barrow said.

Shulley said she also hasn't heard anything further from the City of Hagerstown, which billed her $925.81 in March after a radiator burst inside the house, and 177,000 gallons had gushed out by the time a Realtor happened by with a client.

Whether the dampness and damage inside was remedied isn't clear.

A spokeswoman for Safeguard Properties Inc., which U.S. Bank hired by last February to maintain the property, said recently to protect the privacy of homeowners, she couldn't talk publicly about specific properties.

Shulley, who is renting elsewhere now, called the situation "really pretty disappointing. Absolutely nothing has happened. And next month, I will have been out of there a year."

Shulley said with her credit so damaged, she's dreading the day she must buy a car or anything else for which she'll need a loan.

"They are sounding like scary things now," she said. "If I did try to buy a car, they would, of course, try to say why I would need a hugely high interest rate."

So, "I'm just trying to establish excellent rental history, paying the rent on time, like I normally would. ... After this, I don't know that I want to ever buy another house."

Ralph Crawford Jr.

Crawford, 38, had just bought his very first house when we met him last September.

Buying the half a double at 551 Frederick St. had worried him.

"I've had friends lose their house, have bankruptcy," he said back then.

But now, Crawford said, he's feeling "pretty good, hanging in there" as his longtime job at United Parcel Service seems steady.

He said he refinanced his mortgage, bringing the interest rate down to 5.5 percent from 5.7.

Matt and Allison Weaver

The Weavers, forced to buck the economy last January by putting their brick rancher at 10900 Clinton Ave. on the market, sold it March 31 for $200,000.

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