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Council will discuss lawsuits

February 14, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

With two lawsuits Washington County filed against the city of Hagerstown pending in court, the Hagerstown and Washington County governments are meeting separately in closed session in attempts to hash out a settlement.

The suits are related to the city's disputed annexation policy.

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

At a special closed session meeting today, the Hagerstown City Council is scheduled to discuss a proposal that may settle the lawsuits, Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said Thursday. It is the only item on the meeting agenda.

The council did not meet this week because of the "Gods and Generals" premiere on Tuesday, the council's regular meeting night.

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At the Jan. 7 council meeting, Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell gave the council nonbinding oral and written proposals which, if accepted, could lead to settlement of two lawsuits the county has filed against the city, he said.

At its Jan. 28 meeting, the Hagerstown City Council reached consensus on how to respond to the county offer and did so at a city-county committee meeting later that week.

A new compromise proposal came out of that meeting and was discussed by both bodies last week, Hendershot said. The council will discuss the proposal again today, he said.

City and county officials have refused to reveal details of the proposal under consideration.

Wivell, the county commissioners' representative on the city-county committee, has said he believes negotiations can continue while the lawsuits work their way through the courts.

The City of Hagerstown on Monday filed a motion with Washington County Circuit Court to dismiss the county's Jan. 3 lawsuit, which alleges the annexation policy is illegal.

The city also filed its response to Washington County's motion for a preliminary injunction that would block the city from imposing its annexation policy on property owners.

The court has set a March 31 date for a hearing on the motion.

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.

The city's response says the new annexation policy is legal and does not violate a 1997 agreement with the county, as the county suggests.

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 and asking 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.

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