by Geoff Fox
Personnel. Infrastructure. Jobs. Those were some of the issues Hancock faced last year and, and to some point, fixed. But what does 2020 hold for the Town of Hancock?
Mayor Ralph Salvagno said the biggest issue in 2019 was personnel — the challenge of replacing the town manager and police chief.
Salvagno noted town officials had to know what they were looking for in the individuals and then try to find out whom the right person would be.
“Even then, once you’ve done that, the contractual issues are always difficult to work through,” he said.
The town can now move both departments forward with more preventive maintenance from Public Works and community-based operations with the town police force.
“It’s really good at this point to be able look back and realize those problems are solved,” Salvagno said.
Salvagno said he sees one challenge of 2020 as maintaining the momentum the town had at the end of 2019, when Main Street Hancock and Hancock in Motion held the Miracle on Main and generated traffic on Hancock streets.
Maintaining that momentum is going to take “a little bit of work,” he said.
Having agreements with the Park Service and Department of Natural Resources in 2020 will allow the town to take a role in upkeep of the C&O Canal and Rail Trail.
In the first quarter of 2020, the closure of the bridge across the canal to the boat ramp area presents a problem.
The Park Service closed the bridge in early November due to structural issues.
Salvagno sees that as a major issue at the moment as people come to town to use the area for swimming, fishing, boating, and picnicking.
“Having [the bridge] closed will have a major impact on tourism in the town,” Salvagno said.
Salvagno was heading to Annapolis today, Wednesday, January 8, as the
General Assembly opens their sessions. The bridge is one topic he will be discussing.
Salvagno predicts Hancock will continue to see economic development this year.
Town officials understands to encourage businesses to locate in Hancock, there has to be some type of economic incentives. The town created a tax incentive late last year to do so.
The other thing Salvagno would like to look at is transportation, such as a small, in-town commuter bus running a couple hours a day, a couple days a week.
There has been recent talk about having train service from the Hancock, W.Va, station across the river. Salvagno said it’s nice to think about it, but if it were economically feasible it could take many years.
“I would really like to look at providing some type of limited transportation services within the town for those with limited means,” Salvagno said.
For Town Manager Joe Gilbert, the theme for 2019 was “assessment.”
Hancock has a small government, but it’s still government and sometime the wheels of government tend to move slowly.
In identifying needs in town, Gilbert first and foremost has focused on
When traveling on Main Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, South Street, or any street in town, there are patches where water or sewer lines have been repaired over the years.
Gilbert said the town’s wastewater facility is a key project.
“I know from the outside it may seem like there’s nothing happening and nothing happening. We talk about it and nothing happens,” Gilbert said. “But there’s a very lengthy process.”
The cost for the wastewater facility is around $14 million.
The town is unable to write a check with “lots of zeros,” he said.
Currently the town water system is running with one working well. A second well has been unusable for some time.
The existing water system has been in the ground for around 80 years and Gilbert said it’s time to look at that system in a comprehensive way.
“As we do the grant applications, as we do the engineering studies, as we file the paperwork, all that has to be done now,” Gilbert said.
Town officials have approved the contract for a new second well, however Gilbert said they’re going to give 30 days to see if the first well drillers could get the existing well up and running at a smaller price tag.
“If we can, great. If not, then we have that Plan B already in place,” he said.
Gilbert is also looking at the economic development around town.
Statistically, Hancock’s median income is about half that of the state of Maryland, unemployment unnecessarily high, and a shrinking population.
Gilbert said following the passage of a tax incentive program for downtown, he has already started receiving phone calls regarding people wanting to start businesses in Hancock.
Oone of the positives for Hancock is the tourism industry. With multiple trails running through town, Gilbert said Hancock can capitalize on those aspects for the town to turn those attractions into an industry.
Gilbert recently submitted $477,500 in grant requests to Project Open Space. The grants would allow for septic systems, lights in ballparks, an
d improved tourism features in town.
Those would include pavilions, more lighting, kiosks, and a “wide range of things.”
“Whatever we can do to advertise and then capitalize on the positive aspects that we have now in Hancock,” Gilbert said.
By making trails more accommodating and friendly to the larger groups of cyclists and tourists, they could stay longer to get a meal or shop.
This experience with a group could lead a member to come back with their family.
By doing this, Gilbert said it would bring in more businesses and in turn create more jobs. Add in an increase in the infrastructure, the town would be able to recruit businesses.
“It’s going to be a big year,” he said.
Gilbert considers 2020 the first year as seeds that were planted in the last six months start to bear fruit.
“It doesn’t end there. It’s an ongoing process,” he said. Gilbert added some things might not bear fruit for another year or two.
“We’re just getting started,” he said.