Grant Funding, Transient Housing Updates – Hagerstown Work Session Recap

HAGERSTOWN – Tuesday night’s work session, 20 February 2024, began with a request by Executive Director Sean Griffith that the Council send a letter of support to the county stating that they would entertain discussions surrounding a possible merger of the Hagerstown Housing Authority Board with the Washington County Housing Authority. While Griffith himself isn’t sure how feasible it is, he and the city board are willing to discuss the pros and cons of such a merger. The Council approved an opening of discussions, though Councilmember Kristin Aleshire expressed his hope that the Hagerstown Housing Authority Board wouldn’t lose its nonpartisan nature by becoming a larger, county-wide entity. Following this, the Council reviewed the preliminary agenda for its Feb. 27 regular session meeting.

Community Engagement Officer Brittany Arizmendi provided updates to the Downtown Event Grant application process. Changes regarding the FY 2025 procedure include a cap funding range of $3,000, an overall range of $500-$3,000, and the requirement that events take place on public property, such as city parks, streets, and public-owned spaces. The application will launch on March 6, 2024 and remain open through May 1, 2024. Awards will be sent out by mid-June.

Deputy Director of Electric Operations Nathan Fridinger requested approval to submit an application for the FY24 Streetlight and Outdoor Lighting Efficiency (SOLE) Grant. This program is meant to fund the conversion of outdoor HID lighting to LED technology. Staff identified 521 lamps that they would like to convert using this funding. They are planning to apply for a grant amount of $111,000, with a total project cost estimated at $233,630. The application will be submitted by March 8, 2024.

Chief Financial Officer Michelle Hepburn and Accounting & Budget Manager Brooke Garver presented allocations and updates regarding the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021. ARPA funding provided to the city totals $20.4 million dollars. The city plans to allocate these funds into seven different categories through FY24 as follows: 32% in revenue replacement; 26% in infrastructure; 12% in public health; 11% in premium pay; 9% in negative economic impacts: public sector; 9% in negative economic impacts; and 1% in administrative. Hepburn and Garver gave an overview of completed, in-progress, and proposed projects utilizing ARPA funding.

The Council proceeded to discuss the potential annexation of Heavens Heights Homes, LLC. A formal petition was submitted on Dec. 8, 2023 to annex the property with Residential-Moderate Density (RMOD) zoning. The owner plans to build one single-family home and 30 two-family units on this property. The petition itself will be presented at the meeting on Feb. 28. and will then be placed on the agenda for approval.

Councilmember Peter E. Perini, Sr. commented on the idea of a new circuit court location. While he acknowledged that anything to do with the circuit court is largely a county concern rather than a city concern, he expressed his hopes that the Council could be involved in talks regarding an updated location. As it stands, the current facility may not be adequate for modern-day needs, especially in terms of security.

Neighborhood Services Manager Paul Fulk led discussions concerning the transient housing updates. He went over the joint inspections conducted at the thirteen hotels in Hagerstown by Code Administration and the Fire Marshal’s Office. There was a cumulative total of 2,297 code violations identified during these inspections, with six hotels qualifying as Tier 1 (less than 0.50 violations per room) and seven hotels qualifying as Tier 2 (above 0.50 violations per room). Tier 2 hotels will be required to pay a $500 licensing fee. Electric violations, such as hazards and non-functioning devices, were the most common, though there were also issues with bugs, unpermitted work violations, fire code violations, smoke detectors, plumbing, etc. The Planning & Code Administration Department plans to offer an information session in spring regarding licensing, inspections, and required training. Department staff will present recommended changes to chapters 64 and 230 of the Transient Housing Ordinance at a work session next month, with said changes to be introduced at the March 26 regular session.

City Engineer Jim Bender presented the lease agreement with Eastern Sports Management (ESM) for the operation of the Hagerstown Field House, which has been in development over the past 12 months. Staff feel that the agreement protects the interests of the city while being fair to ESM’s business plan. The Council reviewed the information and agreed to discuss it further at the regular session on Feb. 27.

The meeting concluded with comments by the City Administrator and Council. These included a reminder by Scott Nicewarner that yard waste collection will resume on Feb. 25, as well as a proposal by Councilmember Shelley McIntire that the Council rearrange its agenda to include a period of Council comments following the typical period of public comments.