September 20 – Yesterday’s Hagerstown Mayor and Council work session had some discussion points that focused on different properties in the city.
One issue was a request for an extension on a grant for the properties at 49 and 37 Jonathan Street.
Hagerstown Mayor Tekesha Martinez said, “We extended it and the reason why I feel like for the council, and I think this was the third extension for that property, and the reason why is because there was some concern that you don’t want people to come in and do these projects, and then materials and all that kind of stuff, kind of pushing them back and then they lose the ability to get that that funding that comes from the city center. So that was why. It’s kind of like oh, you don’t want to keep giving, because that money is tied up.”
It’s under the Spring Sprouts Grant.
Martinez explained, “It’s so that people can have some money to bring up a place that has been not been opened in our city center. When you take a long time it ties it up. If someone has a project right now that they can get that $100,000 or $250,000, then we would want them to be able to do that and get the project up and running because that’s the purpose of it. But the council still did extend because they have some work done. It kind of would suck right now to not meet your deadline and then you don’t get that money to help you.”
Pictures of the progress that had been made so far were included in the request – COVID was a big factor in the delay of the project.
Martinez said, “I think that with this elected body they’re pretty graceful. There’s always a concern around we don’t want them to get this far in and then when we say no, you can’t get the funding from us and then that’s it. Now wherever they are, they stopped and we got to try to get someone else to get in there.”
Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM pointed out, “Last extension, though, right? And they understand that hey, we’ve rolled the ball here a couple of times. We need to see some closure to this project.”
Martinez agreed, “There’s some concern from a few council members that someone else could be using that right now and get something up and running in the next couple of months. Someone may be further along and ready to go in their plans.”
Plans for the next legislative session were also discussed.
Martinez said, “One of them was about these LLCs, for instance, a LLC comes in and they buy up a bunch of properties. Then they name a principal agent, but then they bail and these properties are just sitting there and you can never find out who the actual owners are. So that’s one of the things that as the city, we have a hard time trying to find who owns these properties that are blighted, that have just been purchased by an LLC, that are just gone, that have disappeared. So one of the things that our city administrator talked about is going and trying to get some legislation around that, that at least you have put who is the LLC. When you look up different records for your house, you know who bought the house, you know all of those things, you know who to hold accountable, but with these LLCs, it could be like 49 Jonathan Street, and then the name of the person who owns it is 49 LLC. Then you don’t know who to serve or anything.”
Empty properties can be frustrating.
Martinez said, “It’s hard on local governments because you can’t do anything. You can just keep fining and fining and fining. There was something down in Annapolis last session, and it didn’t go through because those properties that their taxes aren’t paid up on, or they are paid up on, but it’s still blight, it’s pretty bad. There was a concern down in Annapolis that we wanted to take properties like say for instance, I own a property, you’re renting it and it’s pretty bad. There’s a lot of code on it. I’m not going to come in as the government and put you out and take the property. So now going back down to Annapolis with that type of language in that bill, because that’s another issue is if the taxes are paid on it, but it’s still blight, there’s nothing you can do. You may not even know who the owner is. But you know the taxes are being paid and there may be a principal agent on it.”
Overall, yesterday’s meeting was quite successful.
Martinez said, “I feel like this might sound weird, but I feel like we had a good time yesterday. I know it sounds so weird, but we did. This elected body, this administration, along with the staff, it just, it just feels good. It feels like we are sitting there with the same purpose to help better the city, make it a better place to live, work and serve. I feel like that was my takeaway yesterday. I left yesterday feeling really good, like we had a good time. We’re not like a stuffy government. Our communication guy came in, he said, I watch mayor and council a lot of places and I’m not just this because I’m here, but you guys are really good to watch, like I enjoy watching it.”
Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM added, “Some of these conversations that we’ve been having lately, how important is that, especially now? Because I went to a very acrimonious township meeting last Friday and it was awful. It was a lot of backbiting and people saying things into the microphone to sort of sideswipe the person they didn’t agree with. Awful. I think there is something to be said for the comment that you just made at that meeting. We would like to see more of this. Respectful, minimally, and maximally we can actually like each other even if we don’t always agree.”
Martinez said, “You don’t have to agree, but there’s still work to be done. We’ve been elected to run a collaborative process and I feel like we did that. We do that. But yesterday, it just, I left and I was like wow, me and Councilwoman Burnett, we were both smiling. I was like, wasn’t that fun? Who says that?”