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County sues Hagerstown

The $2.5 million suit focuses on the terms of a 1997 sanitary sewer service agreement between the city and the county.

The $2.5 million suit focuses on the terms of a 1997 sanitary sewer service agreement between the city and the county.

December 03, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - One day before three new commissioners were to take office, the Washington County Commissioners sued the City of Hagerstown Monday over a sewer service agreement.

The lawsuit, which seeks $2.5 million from the city, is the latest development connected to a simmering annexation argument.

Hagerstown attorney Scott L. Schubel filed the suit on the county's behalf. He said the suit focuses on the terms of a 1997 sanitary sewer service agreement between the city and the county.

In Monday's suit, the county asks that a judge order the city to abide by the terms of a 2001 amendment to the sewer agreement. The amendment addresses flows under a proposed connection of the city's and county's systems.

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Alleging a breach of contract, the county has asked for $2.5 million in losses and damages, plus court costs.

The suit says the disagreement is delaying the construction of a sewer interconnection near Hopewell Road.

"The construction of the Interconnector and the full implementation of the Amendment would enable each party to realize an increase of approximately .... $1.5 million in net revenues over the course of ten (10) years," the complaint says.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the projected revenue is based on estimates of savings and user fees.

In April 2001, Robert E. Bruchey II, Hagerstown's mayor at the time, proposed a policy change that would give the city the power to withhold sewer service from property owners outside the city who request it.

Before receiving city sewer service, owners of property that does not border the city would have to agree to future annexation once their property becomes contiguous to existing city boundaries, under the city plan.

The county favors keeping the wording of the old policy, which says the city "shall" accept new sewer flows, compared to Bruchey's "may."

Snook said the previous City Council had agreed to the amended terms of the sewer contract, but that changed when a new council was elected in May 2001.

"The City Council had agreed to this and then, after the election, they decided not to go forward with this," he said.

Snook said there have been several rounds of talks, some involving representatives from the Maryland Department of the Environment, but no accord.

Hagerstown City Councilwoman Penny May Nigh said the sewer agreement lawsuit is directly tied to the annexation dispute and the city's stance is correct.

"I think that (the word 'may') gives us a better leverage," she said.

However, John Munson, who is to be sworn in this morning as a new Washington County Commissioner, said he believed the city's position was "unconstitutional" and "illegal."

He said he would rather the outgoing commissioners had left the argument for the incoming commissioners to work out, but he didn't know about Monday's lawsuit and had no comment on it.

Nigh and Munson agreed that there probably is still time for the city and the county to settle the annexation matter out of court.

Munson said, however, it might prove difficult. "There's no talking to a couple of the City Council members," he said.

Last month, the county threatened a similar but separate suit over the annexation policy itself. The county was listed as a plaintiff in the draft of that threatened suit, along with the Home Builders Association of Washington County, Home Construction Corp. and Paul Crampton Contractors Inc.

As of Monday, that suit had not been filed.

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