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City: Talks with county hit snag

July 30, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

City of Hagerstown officials on Tuesday said they thought they were ready to vote on a proposed settlement of two legal disputes with the Washington County Commissioners, but county officials said later that the two governments have a way to go to end a fight over a city annexation policy.

"It is disappointing to say the least," Hagerstown Councilman N. Linn Hendershot, who has been negotiating the issue on the city's behalf for more than six months, said late Tuesday. He was not aware the county had problems with the settlement proposal until after Tuesday's council meeting, he said.

The council on July 8 gave unanimous support to a proposed agreement that would settle the county's January lawsuit on the city's annexation policy and a December 2002 lawsuit over a flow transfer agreement. Under the settlement, the county would drop both lawsuits.

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At Tuesday's meeting, the council again gave informal support to revising the annexation policy and approving the flow transfer agreement and agreed the matter should be put on the Aug. 5 agenda for a vote.

But while the Hagerstown Mayor and City Council expressed hope Tuesday that both bodies would adopt a revised version of the annexation policy at a joint meeting next week, County Administrator Rodney Shoop and Commissioner William J. Wivell said the county won't be ready to vote on the annexation issue for at least a few weeks.

Hendershot said the county and city, through their representatives, had agreed for weeks that both issues would be dealt with simultaneously.

The county approved the flow transfer agreement at its July 22 meeting.

Wivell said he had just received a copy of the revised draft of the annexation policy on Monday and said the county needs time for its attorneys to review language changes.

The city's amended annexation policy links it to other issues, such as the county hotel-motel tax and the flow transfer agreement, but the county does not want those issues meshed, Wivell said.

While the city is proposing amending its annexation policy in response to county objections, the county might not agree to some of the changes, such as a requirement that the county never challenge the policy's legality in court, Wivell said.

The proposed settlement would leave in place the city's annexation policy but would exempt certain areas from a requirement that property along the city's borders be annexed before city water and sewer services 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.

Under the proposed settlement, the annexation policy would exempt several areas served by the city but outside the city limits, including Maugansville, Fountainhead, Paramount, Halfway and Williamsport, city officials said.

Wivell said he was expecting the city to offer a document listing exemptions for the county, but instead the new version changes the annexation policy language.

While the difference may seem minor, Wivell said, it could imply county endorsement of the annexation policy, which the county says violates a 1997 agreement between the two bodies.

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