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Wivell offers proposals to settle suits vs. city

January 08, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell gave the Hagerstown City Council at its Tuesday meeting nonbinding oral and written proposals which, if accepted, could lead to settlement of two lawsuits the county has filed against the city, he said.

Wivell said the city has three weeks to respond to the proposals, which are related to the city's disputed annexation policy as it is currently written.

The city maintains the annexation policy is legal while the county contends it is not.

Wivell said he wanted to meet with the council Tuesday to determine if the issues could be resolved without the matter going to trial.

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City Attorney John Urner said the city was not prepared Tuesday to respond to the complicated proposal.

But Mayor William M. Breichner said his position is that the two governments should be able to settle differences without going to court.

Before the presentation, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner questioned the wisdom of further attempts to negotiate the issues. Six months of litigation might be more productive than a few years of negotiations, he said.

"The courts are going to rule on this faster than we can make an agreement," Metzner said.

He said he did not think a majority on either government body would agree to a compromise.

Wivell represents the county on a city-county committee that is attempting to negotiate a settlement to the annexation policy issue. He said he believes negotiations can continue while the lawsuits work their way through the courts.

"The purpose of me coming today was not to usurp the negotiations but to bring the council up to speed," Wivell said. He wanted the whole council to know the county's position on the issues, he said.

Wivell had asked to meet with the council in closed session, but council members said they wanted the presentation to be made in public.

Council members asked questions but did not otherwise comment on the proposal.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, the county asks the Washington County Circuit Court to block the city from imposing the 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 and water and sewer service. That annexation would be required once their properties became adjacent to city land.

The county will drop the annexation policy suit if the city stops requiring annexation for water and sewer service for contiguous property owners and removes the noncontigious provision, Wivell 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.

That suit asks the court to insist the city abide by the agreement.

The Council has delayed signing the amendment because of a desire to have it connected to the annexation policy, Wivell said.

The county will drop that suit if the city agrees to honor the 2001 agreement without adding new conditions, he said.

The city set up the city-county committee after Washington County Attorney Richard Douglas in mid-November sent the city attorney's office a letter that said 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.

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