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Wivell's proposal to city detailed

January 09, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County would drop its request for a state regulatory agency's examination of the City of Hagerstown's water and sewer rates for residents who live outside the city if the city takes certain actions, Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell told the council during its Tuesday meeting.

But Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said Wednesday his preference would be for the city to wait for the Maryland Public Service Commission to rule rather than trying to find a compromise.

Hagerstown Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said he agrees with the mayor.

The city will abide by any ruling the PSC makes, Breichner and Hendershot said.

The county asked the PSC to look into whether the rates charged to customers who live outside the city are excessive and appropriate.

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The county also asked the regulatory agency to look at a city practice of having some departments make a payment to the city general fund, Wivell said. This payment, called a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), is intended to represent the amount those departments would pay to the city if they were private companies.

Wivell made the offer to drop the PSC request as part of a presentation at which he also explained what the council would need to do to get the county to drop two lawsuits it filed against the city. All offers he made were nonbinding, he said.

The lawsuits 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.

The city had no comment on Tuesday's proposals presented by Wivell, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said Wednesday.

The council and staff will respond to Wivell's proposals within three weeks, as Wivell requested, he said.

In an Aug. 2, 2002, letter, the Washington County Water and Sewer Advisory Commission, acting with the commissioners' support, asked the PSC to determine whether the city's rates are reasonable and justified.

The PSC has agreed to examine the rates but the earliest the PSC would hold hearings on the matter is July under a proposed schedule accepted by PSC, county and city officials on Oct. 2.

City Attorney John Urner has estimated the city and county governments would have to spend at least $100,000 each as part of expenses related to the county request.

Wivell said the county would withdraw its request if the city took certain actions including:

n Having a study done, at the city's expense, that shows the true cost of providing water and sewer service to its customers. The study must be in accordance with industry standards.

n Clarifying the methodology the city uses to set rates.

n Agreeing with the county that the PSC has the jurisdiction to review the city's water and sewer rates outside its municipal boundaries, including in joint service areas.

The city has asked the PSC to rule on the jurisdiction issue since City Attorney John Urner maintains the PSC does not have jurisdiction over some of those rates.

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