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City expects to miss deadline

June 19, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

City of Hagerstown officials Wednesday said they do not expect to meet a June 30 state deadline to resolve a water-sewer issue with the county, but the region may not lose a $650,000 environmental grant.

In written correspondence, state officials have said a $650,000 Maryland Department of the Environment grant that would help pay for joint city-county services could expire on June 30 unless the city and county sign an agreement.

The money probably would go elsewhere if an agreement is not reached by the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30, the correspondence said.

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In recent months, while the city and county were attempting to negotiate a solution, city, state and Washington County officials have said they were operating on the assumption that June 30 was a firm deadline.

On Wednesday, however, George Keller, program administrator for the Maryland Department of the Environment's water management administration, said he probably would give the two governments some additional time if they were close to an agreement. Representatives of both sides on Wednesday said that is the case.

The county in December sued the city for $2.5 million in damages, 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.

The city has delayed signing the amendment because, officials say, they want it connected to a controversial annexation policy.

The Hagerstown City Council in July might discuss and possibly vote on whether to sign the amendment and address the annexation policy issue separately, Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said Wednesday. Hendershot represents the county on a city-county committee focused on the two issues.

The council is not scheduled to meet next week because members will be at the annual Maryland Municipal League convention, but a special meeting could be called, Hendershot said.

"I think there are times when deadlines are good," said Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell, the commissioners' representative involved in negotiating the flow transfer and annexation agreements. "I am more interested in just getting it done and moving on. I am not necessarily impressed the process can drag out longer," he said.

Hendershot said the city wants the matter resolved as soon as possible.

Left unresolved is how the city plans to respond to the long-standing annexation disagreement.

In January, the county sued the city over issues tied to a disputed annexation policy, which the county contends violates a 1997 agreement between the two bodies.

While Hendershot and Mayor William M. Breichner have said they want to continue negotiations on annexation, Council Lewis C. Metzner has said he wants the city to let the courts decide whether the policy is legal.

The civil suit is not scheduled to be tried until September.

The disputed annexation policy, which went into effect in September 2001, 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.

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