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Iseminger says dispute may dissuade clients

December 06, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A dispute between Washington County and the City of Hagerstown over the city's new water and sewer annexation policy has raised concern among some that the policy will cause the first potential client of Allegheny Energy's business park to back out of the deal.

But some city officials say they don't think annexation will be an issue.

Former County Commissioner Bert Iseminger said Thursday the closing of the deal to locate an international satellite company at Friendship Technology Park hinges upon whether the city will require Allegheny Energy to sign an annexation agreement with the city to receive water service.

"There's no other outstanding issue that I know of," Iseminger said.

Iseminger was part of the county commission that approved a new zoning designation that allows Intelsat Global Service Corp. to open a subsidiary called Mountainside Teleport Corp. at the technology park.

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"Now we're waiting for this issue to be resolved," Iseminger said. "This is the first example of a commercial entity coming in here and the effects of the policy, and there are going to be others to follow."

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner and Richard Reichenbaugh, a consultant for the project, said city staff members have said Allegheny Energy would have to agree to annex the property into the city to receive water service.

"I'm assuming that's what staff told them," Breichner said.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, however, said the decision to require an annexation has not been made and that the issue has not been taken before the Annexation Review Board.

Debbie Everhart, who chairs the review committee, dismissed concerns that annexation would be an issue regarding the Allegheny deal because the property is not contiguous to city borders.

She said the city was reviewing whether a 1966 agreement with Allegheny Energy, formerly Potomac Edison, would be a basis to waive an annexation requirement if the committee determined that an annexation agreement was needed.

City and county officials said the city has a 1966 agreement with Allegheny Energy that states the city would provide water service if the business park were to be developed. It does not state annexation would be required, Breichner said.

Everhart said that even if there wasn't an agreement, "I wouldn't anticipate for a second that we would deny them service."

Zimmerman and Everhart said the Intelsat project is important to the county and that they want to help push it through. They said they don't know why there is talk throughout the county that annexation will be a factor in the deal.

"From an economic development standpoint, we don't want anyone to fear that there's going to be a roadblock," Everhart said.

"We'll definitely do everything we can to help facilitate moving the project along," Zimmerman said.

Intelsat Global Service in Washington, D.C., has an agreement-in-principle to buy land at the site to build ground support for its satellite network. It would employ 50 people, officials have said.

Intelsat provides global communications for telecommunications carriers, broadcasters, global finance companies and other corporations that do business around the world. It has customers in 200 counties and territories.

Everhart said the review committee hopes to decide on the matter Monday and that it's likely Allegheny Energy will receive water service without an annexation requirement.

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

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

Iseminger said only water service is relevant in the Allegheny Energy deal because the company will receive sewer service from the county's system.

Breichner, who said he disagrees with the city's annexation policy, said it would be unrealistic to make Allegheny Energy sign an annexation agreement with the city because it's too far away from city borders.

"Basically, the policy the City Council has passed says they have to agree to annexation," Breichner said.

Allegheny Energy Spokesman Guy Fletcher said he didn't know whether the city told the company it would have to sign an annexation agreement, but that he hopes the city will adhere to the 1966 agreement.

"It is our belief that the service of water to the site is covered under the 1966 agreement," Fletcher said.

An Intelsat spokesperson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Iseminger said he hopes uncertainty over whether an annexation agreement would be required doesn't cause Intelsat to decide against locating in Washington County. If the annexation is required, that might eventually force the business to pay both city and county taxes, he said.

"I'm sure paying city taxes wasn't part of their calculation," Iseminger said. "How can a company put together a business plan not knowing whether it's going to be part of the city and paying county and city taxes? Companies don't want that kind of uncertainty."

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