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Council looking to avoid lawsuit

The Hagerstown City Council wants to meet with the county government to discuss disputed annexation policy.

The Hagerstown City Council wants to meet with the county government to discuss disputed annexation policy.

November 20, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday directed city staff to set up a meeting between the city and Washington County governments to try to head off a possible lawsuit over the city's annexation policy.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said county officials probably would agree to such a meeting. He questioned whether a meeting would resolve the disagreement, he said.

Washington County Attorney Richard Douglas last week sent a letter to the city attorney saying the county believes the city's annexation policy violates a 1997 agreement between the county and city governments.

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The letter was accompanied by a draft of a lawsuit Douglas said the county would file if the dispute were not resolved soon.

The disputed annexation policy would require property along the city's borders to be annexed before city water and sewer service are extended to the area.

Owners of properties that do not border the city would have to agree to future annexation before receiving city water and sewer service. That annexation would come once their properties became contiguous to city land.

The City Council unanimously adopted the annexation policy on May 28. It went into effect Sept. 1.

City Attorney John Urner told the council Tuesday that the tactic of including a draft of the lawsuit is a relatively new one.

"It is a technique that puts a different spin on saber-rattling: Let's talk but here is the saber I will slice you with if we don't talk," Urner said.

Urner was scheduled to discuss the matter with council members in closed session, but at the suggestion of Councilman Lewis C. Metzner the discussion occurred in public session.

Metzner urged the council to try to find a compromise with the county instead of taking the matter to court.

Urner agreed that it would be a good idea for representatives of both sides to try to find a way to settle the matter.

While the policy is legally defensible, he said, he can't guarantee the city would win the case.

The council suggested a meeting be set up to include Councilman N. Linn Hendershot, one County Commissioner, Douglas, Urner and a representative of the Home Builders Association of Washington County.

The draft lawsuit lists the Home Builders Association of Washington County, Home Construction Corp. and Paul Crampton Contractors Inc. as co-plaintiffs.

Metzner said it was "nuts" for city taxpayers, including him, to have to pay for city and county attorneys to conduct a legal battle.

"We have reached the level of absurdity" Metzner said. "We have got to meet with them ... This litigation has to be put in the trash can. "

The county also would like to avoid litigation, if possible, Snook said.

Metzner questioned the timing of the threatened suit, coming as three commissioners leave office.

"It is a strange thing to have a lame duck administration ... make this a parting shot for us," he said.

Snook said the timing was coincidental.

"We tried to talk about this months in advance with the other parties," he said.

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