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Compromise considered

Council, commissioners to discuss resolving lawsuits

Council, commissioners to discuss resolving lawsuits

February 04, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council and Washington County Commissioners are scheduled today to discuss in separate closed sessions a compromise intended to resolve two lawsuits the county has filed against the city, city and county officials said Monday.

The compromise over the lawsuits, which involve the city's disputed annexation policy, was developed by a city-county committee Friday.

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

The details of the compromise will not be made public unless it is adopted by both bodies, Commissioner William J. Wivell said. Wivell is the county commissioners' representative on the city-county committee.

"I think it has promise, if both sides are willing to accept it," Wivell said.

"I am hopeful something happens but I am not going to say it is a done deal," Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said.

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Breichner said he was "elated" the two bodies were trying to negotiate a compromise rather than have the two lawsuits proceed. But he said the council might not be prepared to decide today whether to accept the compromise because further study may be needed.

If adopted, the compromise also could result in the county withdrawing a request that the Maryland Public Service Commission examine whether the rates charged to customers who live outside the city are excessive and whether they are appropriate, Wivell said.

At a Jan. 7 council meeting, Wivell gave the council nonbinding oral and written proposals which, if accepted, could lead to settlement of the two lawsuits.

The council reached consensus at a Jan. 28 closed session on how to respond to Wivell's presentation but city officials refused to say what that response would be.

Wivell has said he believes negotiations can continue while the lawsuits work their way through the courts.

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. That annexation would be required once their properties became adjacent to city land.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 3, the county asks Washington County Circuit Court to block the city from imposing the annexation policy on property owners.

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

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