Cops and college

September 28, 2005

FROSTBURG MAYOR James V. Cotton might have to bite the hand that feeds his community. The presence of Frostburg State University and its 5,200 students presents a mixed blessing. The city of 8,000 requires a police department of 16, a larger-than-average size by local standards. Off-campus student parties and other school-related chores are a significant reason why. And while the school is a reliable and valued employer, it pays no taxes to Frostburg.

Now, the Police Department is losing officers because the city can't afford to pay a competitive salary. The force is down to 11 and shrinking. One solution, city officials say, would be to assess students a $25 annual fee. But the idea appears to be a nonstarter. The University System of Maryland's Board of Regents is likely to oppose the proposal (particularly in an era of sharply rising tuition), and it's unlikely to get much love from members of the General Assembly or governor in an election year.

A better solution would be for the city and school to negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes. Other state schools have struck such deals. So have some of Maryland's private universities. Frostburg State officials have offered to lend campus police to the city. That's helpful, but a payment might be a more permanent - and fair - solution. A USM spokesman says there's no systemwide policy regarding such arrangements. That ought to be corrected. Frostburg wouldn't be Frostburg without the school. Neither would the hometowns of Maryland's 10 other USM schools. But local government services don't come free, and a good neighbor offers to share the tab.

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