Village for the Homeless on City-Owned Land, Water/Wastewater Bill Increases – Hagerstown Work Session Recap

HAGERSTOWN – Tuesday, 19 March 2024, afternoon’s work session commenced with Battalion Chief Brian Henry of Hagerstown Fire Department swearing an oath to fulfill his duties to the best of his abilities. Following this, Mayor Tekesha Martinez declared March 2024 as a month to celebrate social workers and their jobs, and the Council accepted a check from Maryland Physicians Care to Hagerstown Parks and Recreation in the amount of $10,000.

Chief of Police Paul “Joey” Kifer introduced a potential initiative to construct a tiny village for the local homeless population, consisting of 25 single-resident homes and a community center to provide necessary services onsite. According to Kifer, while shelters can be great temporary solutions for people in dire need, providing those same individuals with homes will give them a sense of dignity that will ultimately allow them to prosper. The village will not be overseen by the Hagerstown Housing Authority, so residents will not be subject to their restrictions. Additionally, residents will not be evicted for actions that other centers consider evictable transgressions, such as substance abuse.

The Housing Authority offered to sell one of the courts at Noland Village to the city for a very low price. This plot already has the desired infrastructure, and it would be fairly inexpensive to provide the homes with electricity, water, and sewage utilities. The Community Action Council, a federally mandated anti-poverty agency, has offered to bring in mentorship programs and social workers. In addition, Kifer has already identified other partners in the community willing to spearhead the programmatic side of the project. Kifer came before the Council to request the use of opioid restitution funds totaling $134,000 as a starting point to build this gated community in Noland Village, seeing as the project will largely service Hagerstown residents struggling with substance abuse.

Martinez, along with Councilmembers Tiara Burnett and Kristin Aleshire, questioned whether the village would also accept families, since the Salvation Army is closing its shelter on April 1. Kifer confirmed that this particular community would only accept single residents, given the space available and the level of need in that specific circle.

Aleshire expressed several other concerns about the project, such as whether this was the first of many such requests imposed upon the city, which isn’t typically involved in housing. He also wondered what the already-established neighborhood surrounding this planned community would think of a separate entity that wasn’t owned or managed by the HHA. Kifer addressed this latter point, claiming that part of their process moving forward would involve talking to those established neighbors and informing them of future plans. Aleshire also pointed out that the project would require city funding, city-owned land, and city departments to assist in management. Kifer reassured him that the majority of the individuals helped by the project would be located within or just outside of city limits. Finally, Aleshire inquired if it wouldn’t be better to build one large shelter that could house multiple residents at once, rather than several small, temporary homes.

Councilmember Peter Perini weighed in on this last issue by pointing out that separate domiciles could instill a sense of pride and ownership in residents, thereby helping them to envision a brighter future. However, he himself questioned whether the funding for the project would take away from other initiatives meant to assist substance abusers and curtail the opioid epidemic. Kifer’s associates confirmed that it will, and it all depends on where the Council’s priorities lie when it comes to dealing with these problems. Ultimately, the Council expressed interest in the project, but everyone agreed that it will require far more in-depth discussion before any decisions are made.

Following a preliminary review of the agenda for their regular session on March 26, the Council renewed the Red Light Camera contract with American Traffic Solutions through Dec. 31, 2024. They also approved the sale of a 1994 Simon Duplex Aerial (ladder truck) that was recently removed from service by the Hagerstown Fire Department. Originally purchased in 2014, the truck will be sold to Clark County Fire Protection District 6 in Vancouver, WA for a price of $50,000.

Chief Financial Officer Michelle Hepburn requested that the Council convert their temporary Grant Coordinator position to a permanent, full-time job. Responsibilities will include oversight and management of grants, coordination of grant committee meetings, compilation of documentation, research/analysis, and report submissions. However, it will not involve writing the grants themselves. The salary will be funded 50% by ARPA funds and 50% by the General Fund in FY25.

Assistant Director of Public Works Erik Kline presented a request to repaint several little league buildings in Hellane Park following the merger of West End Little League with the American Little League and the Maugansville Little League to form the Hub City Little League (HCLL). While West End Little League’s colors have always been green and yellow, HCLL wishes to represent the new league colors of black, gray, red, and yellow by painting a few press box buildings to a height of eight to ten feet above the ground. The minimal financial impact will be covered by the Park’s standard operating budget.

Neighborhood Services Manager Paul Fulk and Neighborhood Services Programs Coordinator Emily McFarland appeared before the Council to present code recommendations related to the Transient Housing Licensing Program. The proposed change to Chapter 230 will require transient housing facilities to display their license in a public place, such as the lobby area. Several modifications to Chapter 64 were also proposed, informed by the housing inspections that took place in the fall of 2023. These include updates to definitions, floor conditions, entry doors, infestation, fire safety, backflow prevention, and smoke/CO alarm requirements. The recommended changes will be introduced at the regular session on March 26.

The meeting concluded with a discussion on the waste/wastewater rate model update, led by Director of Utilities Nancy Hausrath. NewGen Strategies & Solutions, along with City staff, recommended a Three-Year Rate Plan to account for the expected cost of several ongoing projects, such as upgrades to existing water/wastewater facilities and the proposed construction of a new intake and water treatment plant. They also recommended a 14% increase per year for water fees and a 13% increase per year for wastewater fees from FY 2025 through FY 2027. This recommendation supposedly resulted from several factors, including operating and maintenance expenses, capital improvements, debt service, and changes in customer base. Various members of Council expressed concern at these increases, and are planning to send out a PSA explaining the reasons behind them.