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Outsider could help end city-county spat

May 10, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

The Washington County Commissioners have a little bit less than a month to seek some agreement with the City of Hagerstown on sewer policy. If they don't, the two local governments may slip back into their old pattern of being adversaries instead of partners.

The two governments had been working for more than a year on an agreement to interconnect their sewer systems in a project that would save both money. But then-mayor Robert Bruchey called for a change in the sewer agreement that would force those on the city's border who want sewer service to agree to annex.

This didn't sit well with the county commissioners, who argue that under previously negotiated agreements, the city has obligated itself to serve certain areas outside the city. Not that, the county argues, but the city has received state aid based on those agreements.

City officials worry that their remaining capacity will be used up by developments on the city's borders without getting any additional tax revenue in return.

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And without the power to require annexation, some councilmembers fear that the city won't be able to stop the proliferation of new rental units in an urban core where there are 60 percent renters versus 40 percent homeowners, the exact opposite of what experts feel it should be. And so, on May 28, the council is voting on an annexation policy that will require annexation for service.

State experts brought in to speak to a joint meeting of the two bodies earlier this year didn't help, because they seemed more interested in not offending either side than in giving any real direction.

It's time now for both sides to admit they need we've recommended previously - a mediator who would listen to both sides, then help them work out something everyone can live with.

That doesn't mean that both sides would be happy with every detail of that agreement. But each side has some valid points to make and the sooner both find an honest broker to help them craft an agreement, the better off this county will be.

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