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County, city split may cost grant

Delays in the implementation of a project connecting sewer systems may cause the loss of funding for the work.

Delays in the implementation of a project connecting sewer systems may cause the loss of funding for the work.

December 02, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Most of the county funding for a Hagerstown-Washington County sewer project could disappear if a disagreement between the governments is not resolved soon, county and state officials said this week.

The county has a $650,000 grant from the Maryland Department of the Environment to pay for a $1.2 million project connecting the city and county sewer systems near the Washington County Detention Center, county Water and Sewer Director Greg Murray said.

George Keller, acting program administrator for MDE's water quality infrastructure program, has written Murray to express concern about delays in the project's implementation. He asked the county to work with the city to resolve issues and send a new schedule for when the work would be done.

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"We cannot hold funds for delayed projects when there are urgent needs elsewhere in the state," Keller wrote.

The project has been on hold for about 1 1/2 years, Murray said.

Keller would not specify how long the city and county have to sort out the issue. What he termed the "warning letter" was intended to get the two bodies moving to resolve their differences on the project, he said.

"We are going back to the state to ask them to give us as much time as possible to work out the agreement with the city," County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner and Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said they were aware of the Oct. 9 Keller letter and hope the city and county can reach a consensus and avoid losing the grant.

The county has $200,000 in contributions from developers for the project, Murray said.

The county has tentative approval for $200,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission and an additional $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture if the city and county can reach an agreement, he said.

The city and county elected bodies have approved amendments to a sewer service agreement that would allow the systems to connect, but with differing language. The sticking point is that the body of the original agreement includes the word "shall" and some city officials want the word changed to "may."

Some council members have said the "shall" means the city can't refuse sewer service to properties outside city limits. That would prevent the city from requiring properties along the city border to annex in order to receive sewer service, as a new policy does.

The city version replaced "shall" with "may," giving the city more flexibility. The commissioners' version left the "shall" in the agreement.

If the systems are combined, a new sewer line would allow for some sewage being sent to the city sewer plant to instead go to a county plant. Without the connection, the city plant would have to be expanded sooner, county officials say.

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