Letter to the Editor - April 2

April 02, 2012

Downtown property owners who allow buildings to decay should pay higher tax

To the editor:

Regarding the talk about reviving downtown Hagerstown: I moved here when I reached 65 back in 2003, living at Alexander House on Public Square. I see daily the current deplorable condition of downtown and the hopeless attempts to improve it.

I have talked to other residents and storekeepers as well as government “leaders.” I have encountered multiple buildings with spongy floors.

Here are some observations and suggestions, most of which have never appeared in print:

Historic preservation, while a nice goal, is a disaster as practiced here. This in not colonial Williamsburg, Va. Preservation here is a patchwork, a needless expense that accomplishes little. A good example was reported recently: A local property owner was blocked from using a certain kind of new windows. On the other hand, many buildings are in no way of historic design overall (they might have a minor detail or two to qualify).

Before you claim I am anti-old, let me mention I am an active member of Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum, who would love to see trolleys back in Public Square.

Another major problem is the vacant downtown buildings. How can owners afford to pay taxes for decades with no rent? I propose the real-estate tax system be changed to penalize owners for vacant property. I suggest a two-value system: First value would represent fair market value if the property were maintained in good condition, while the second would represent value at time of appraisal (presumably less). Taxes would be on the first, plus a variable rate for difference between the two.

The more run-down a property is, the higher the tax. This would be citywide. And in the case of downtown business properties, an additional tax would be assessed for the number of years vacant. The lack of interest in unused buildings by local government is ridiculous, and even members of the legislature shrug shoulders when empty buildings are brought up.

W. Bernard Randolph

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