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Disagreement could cost grant

April 22, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Negotiations between the City of Hagerstown and the Washington County Commissioners over a controversial annexation policy have stalled at least temporarily, increasing the possibility the county could lose a state grant, city and county officials said Monday.

State officials say a $650,000 environmental grant that would help pay for joint city-county services could expire June 30 unless there is a settlement to the disputed policy requiring annexations in exchange for some water and sewer service.

City and county officials say efforts are being made to prevent the county from losing the grant.

The Washington County Commissioners' lawsuit against the City of Hagerstown over the city's annexation policy is not scheduled to go to trial until September.

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Commissioner William J. Wivell, the county commissioners' representative on the city-county committee created to resolve the dispute, has said he believes negotiations can continue while the lawsuit works its way through the courts.

But while there has been some progress in resolving the issue, the two sides currently are stalled and the dispute may not be resolved without going to court, Wivell said.

The disputed annexation policy, which went into effect in September, 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 county says the annexation policy is illegal and violates a 1997 agreement with the city.

Councilman N. Linn Hendershot, the city's representative on the city-county committee, predicted both the city and the county may make more compromises in May to try to prevent the loss of the grant.

"We are glad to hear they are still willing to compromise and resolve the issue," Wivell said.

Del. Chris Shank, R-Washington, has been watching the situation with interest and concern. The delegation helped the county obtain the grant.

"I am hopeful that both governments will realize the consequences of turning back close to $1 million in grant money we worked very hard to get for them," Shank said.

Shank also is concerned that the city and county will hurt their chances of getting future grants if they are unable to reach a solution to the disagreement.

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