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Expenses mount in city-county annexation fight

October 10, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Washington County government has been billed about $100,000 over the last 10 months for outside counsel for two legal disputes with the Hagerstown City Council over a controversial annexation policy and a flow transfer agreement, county officials said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Hagerstown has been billed at least $69,000 for expenses related to the disputes, almost all payments to the Hagerstown law firm of Urner, Nairn and Boyer, with whom the city contracts for legal services, Hagerstown Finance Director Al Martin said.

"The cost is minor in comparison to the potential loss of revenue from additional businesses locating or expanding in the county," Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said. He has talked to business leaders who have threatened to move over the annexation policy, he said.

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The county in January filed suit against the city over the annexation policy, which went into effect in September 2002. The annexation policy requires property along the city's borders to be annexed before city water and sewer service are extended to such areas.

Owners of properties that do not border the city must agree to future annexation by signing a pre-annexation agreement before water and sewer service will be provided. Some property owners may be granted exemptions.

Wivell and Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said they personally would oppose appealing whatever decision is reached on the annexation court case.

The county says the policy violates a prior agreement between the two bodies, while the city disagrees.

A two-day trial was held before a retired judge last month. Final written arguments are due today.

No matter what the court decision is, it will be a shallow victory, Breichner said.

"No one is going to win. We have already shot $170,000. We could have put that into productive use. We could have put it into schools," he said.

Breichner said he believes the issues could have been resolved through negotiations.

The other lawsuit was over a flow transfer agreement between the two bodies that the city had refused to sign. That case was settled this summer after the city agreed to sign the document.

Scott Schubel, a Hagerstown attorney, did the county's legal work pro bono on the case, Washington County Attorney Richard Douglas said.

Hagerstown attorney William Schildt has billed the county $23,550 for work relating to the annexation lawsuit between December 2002 and Oct. 30.

Attorney Peter Greenburg of Greenburg, Spence and Taylor of Rockville, Md., billed the county for $78,250.

An additional $15,000 of expenses by Greenburg was paid for by the Homebuilders Association of Washington County. The association was an early co-plaintiff in the suit, but it later was dropped as a party to the lawsuit for technical reasons, Douglas said.

The billing amounts do not include as yet uncalculated staff time for city and county employees.

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