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Wivell: City's claims of a deal are false

August 22, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell on Thursday disputed the City of Hagerstown's contention in a court filing that he agreed to a settlement of a lawsuit over the city's controversial annexation policy.

"The claims are bogus," Wivell said. "The claims are false."

The city, in motions filed Aug. 11 in Washington County Circuit Court, asks the court to dismiss the county's lawsuit that challenges the legality of the city's annexation policy and to enforce the terms of a settlement agreement.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Sept. 3 and the trial, if the case goes forward, is scheduled for Sept. 8.

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The city contends in the court papers that Wivell, the county's representative on a city-county committee formed to address the dispute, told Councilman N. Linn Hendershot on June 15 that the agreement was acceptable.

The city, in its filing, says that the city and county, between June 13 and June 19, reached an agreement to settle the issues about the annexation policy that took effect on Sept. 1, 2002. The parties were to put the details of the agreement into written form and officially approve the agreement, the documents say.

"We were far from a final settlement," Wivell said.

Wivell said he might have said the settlement covered the main issues but he never said the county and city had a deal.

The city's annexation policy requires owners of properties that do not border the city to agree to future annexation before city water and sewer service will be provided to the properties.

The county contends the annexation policy violates a 1997 agreement between the two bodies. The city says it does not.

The council on July 8, and again on July 29, gave unanimous support to a proposed agreement designed to settle the county's January lawsuit over the city's annexation policy and a December 2002 lawsuit over a flow transfer agreement.

Under that agreement, the county was to drop both lawsuits.

The county officially approved the flow transfer agreement at its July 22 meeting and the council approved it at its Aug. 5 meeting.

The county has filed the paperwork to drop the flow transfer lawsuit, County Attorney Richard Douglas said Thursday.

The city motion contends that the settlement of both issues was proposed, and adopted in concept, by the council, and should be legally binding.

Wivell said that even if he gave his support, which he denies, he never suggested he had the authority to speak for the commissioners.

The city offered to revise its annexation policy in reaction to the county complaints.

However, the city's amended annexation policy under the settlement linked 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.

The county might not agree to some of the changes in the revised policy, such as a requirement that the county never challenge the policy's legality in court, Wivell has 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.

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