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Wivell, City Council to talk over lawsuits

January 07, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - At his request, Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell is to meet with the Hagerstown City Council in closed session tonight to try to help negotiate settlements to two lawsuits the county has filed against the city in the last month, Wivell said Monday.

While the other commissioners have let Wivell take the lead in trying to negotiate settlements over issues tied to a disputed annexation policy, they were not aware Monday that he was to attend today's closed session, Wivell said.

He had planned to tell the commissioners about the meeting today, he said. He said he tried unsuccessfully to talk to Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook about the meeting Monday.

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Now some commissioners will find out about the meeting from the newspaper, he said.

"It is easier to get forgiveness than ask for permission," Wivell joked.

Any negotiated agreements would have to be approved by both bodies, he said.

The county, in a lawsuit filed Friday in Washington County District Court, asks the court to block the city from imposing its annexation policy on property owners.

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

Unless they can get a city exemption, owners of property that does not border the city would have to agree to future annexation before receiving city water and sewer service. Such property would then be annexed if and when it becomes adjacent to city land.

Wivell and Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said the meeting will give Wivell a chance to share the county's positions on the issues with city officials and vice versa.

Wivell said he also planned to tell the council about proposals the county has made to try to resolve the matters without litigation. He would not provide details of the proposals.

"We are open to any ideas," Breichner said. "I guess we need to hear them. I guess he needs to hear us."

While it is unusual for a lone commissioner to meet with the full council, the city was not going to turn down a request if it could lead to settlements, Breichner said.

The city-county negotiating committee, which includes Wivell and Hagerstown Councilman N. Linn Hendershot, held its fourth meeting Friday about the policy.

The city set up the committee after Washington County Attorney Richard Douglas sent the city attorney's office a letter in mid-November contending the annexation policy violates a 1997 sewer agreement between the county and city governments. The letter was accompanied by a draft of the lawsuit filed Friday.

At the end of Friday's meeting, Wivell told city officials the second of two lawsuits had been filed by the county against the city.

Wivell said the negotiations on the annexation policy can continue while the litigation proceeds. The county can withdraw the suits if the disputes are resolved, he said.

In early December, the county filed a $2.5 million suit against the city, alleging the city did not abide by the terms of a 2001 amendment to the 1997 sewer agreement. The amendment addresses flows under a proposed connection of the city and county systems.

The city has asked the court to dismiss the December lawsuit.

Council members have delayed signing the amendment, saying they want it connected to the annexation policy, Wivell said.

The city on Monday had not seen a copy of the new lawsuit, Breichner said.

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