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Hagerstown City Council briefs

June 19, 2013

Council approves $1.2M for redevelopment

The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday voted 3-1 to approve $1.2 million in funding for a grant program aimed at fostering commercial redevelopment citywide and in the urban core.

The funding for the “first third” grant program — which comprises a portion of the larger-scale grant program called Invest Hagerstown — will come from general fund reserves.

The first third program consists of two grant levels, one for projects offered solely in City Center and the other for citywide projects.

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A total of $1 million will be allocated for approved downtown projects and an additional $200,000 will be for projects outside City Center.

Commercial grants in the urban core require a 2-to-1 matching process with amounts from $150,000 to $250,000. For example, if a developer contributed a private investment of $400,000, the city would put up $200,000.

And commercial grants outside the City Center require a 2-to-1 matching process with amounts from $25,000 to $50,000. For example, if a developer contributed a private investment of $50,000, he or she would be eligible to receive $25,000 from the city.

The city has $1.5 million earmarked in excess reserve funding for Invest Hagerstown with $1.2 million going toward the first third program and $300,000 leftover for residential grants. Although the details of that portion of Invest Hagerstown have yet to be hammered out.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh cast the dissenting vote, saying the funds could be otherwise used to make city employee steps “whole.”

By the conclusion of the current fiscal year on June 30, four years will have passed since city employees have received a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, and three years since step-increase adjustments, city officials have said.

A 2 percent COLA for the city’s nonunion full-time employees was approved in a 3-1 vote Tuesday, but union employees currently are in labor contract negotiations.

Nigh also cast the dissenting vote in that instance, saying the measure could cause tension between the two employee groups.

City officials have said the cost of making steps “whole,” or bringing the salaries of all city workers up to the terms set out in their current contracts, would be $1,273,000, which would be the salaries prior to the pay freezes.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner was absent from the meeting at City Hall.

Late utility bills will bring penalty

City residents who are late paying their water and sewer bills will now face a 10 percent late fee after a unanimous vote by the Hagerstown City Council Tuesday.

The ordinance — which the mayor and council began considering after learning that several hundred utility customers were delinquent with their utility bills this spring — will take effect on July 19.

“... I think this brings us more in line with what happens in the real world, which is if you don’t pay your bills on time, sometimes you have a late fee,” Mayor David S. Gysberts said.

Michael S. Spiker, the city director of utilities, has said a late fee notice would be sent to water and sewer customers 21 days after their quarterly bill is due.

The late fee for one bill would not be compounded if a customer failed to pay the next bill, Spiker has said.

The late fee on a $100 bill would be $10, making the total bill $110, according to Spiker. But if a customer failed to pay his or her next bill 21 days after it was sent out, the total unpaid balance would be $220.

In previous discussions, council members stipulated that if they voted to approve the measure, the city staff would work with delinquent customers.

The ordinance was introduced at the council’s June 18 work session.

Smoke-free University Plaza proposed

The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to introduce an ordinance that would designate the city-owned portion of University Plaza as a “smoke-free” environment.

The vote stemmed from a request from the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown that the city ban smoking in its portion of the park, which includes the fountain area.

The other portion of the plaza is owned by the state and is already “smoke-free” under state policy, according to memorandum from City Engineer Rodney Tissue to City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman.

The city-owned grass portion of the public plaza, including the fountain area, will be denoted smoke-free by signs.

Violators will be subject to a municipal infraction punishable by a fine of $20 for the first and second offenses and $200 for each subsequent violation.  

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner has said it will be unlikely violators would pay a fine, because they would first be warned of the infraction before a citation was issued.

Pending a formal vote slated for July 23, the ordinance will take effect Aug. 23.

Council awards code cleanup contract

The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to award a bid between $55,000 and $60,000 to a Gaithersburg, Md, contractor for the abatement of weeds, trash and debris for code violation cases.

Earn Contractors, Inc, will abate high weeds and remove trash and debris when properties are in violation of the city’s property maintenance code, according to city documents.

All abatements will be billed to the property owners.

The city’s contract with Earn Contractors, the only bid received, will run the length of the upcoming fiscal year, from July 1 through June 30, 2014, and can be extended if the contractor meets staff requirements, city documents said.

— Holly Shok




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