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Judge rules city violated sewer policy

November 15, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners have won a partial victory in a lawsuit challenging the legality of Hagerstown's annexation policy.

Retired Washington County Circuit Judge Fred Thayer, in a judgment released Friday, wrote that the city violated a 1997 agreement detailing where each government body would provide sewer service. The county filed suit against the city over the annexation policy in January.

Thayer wrote that he agrees with the county argument that the city can't impose the annexation policy's requirements on people in the area covered by the 1997 agreement, known as the General Services Agreement. Thayer rejected the county's request to block the city from imposing its annexation policy anywhere else in the county.

The policy, which went into effect in September 2000, requires property along the city's borders to be annexed before city water and sewer service are extended there.

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Owners of property that does not border the city must agree to future annexation by signing an agreement before water and sewer service will be provided. Some property owners have been granted exemptions.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said the City Council will discuss the decision with City Attorney John Urner on Tuesday night and may not have a comment until that time.

The city will amend its annexation policy if necessary, Breichner said.

Urner said he had no comment on the decision.

Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell and Breichner said Friday they would oppose appealing the decision. Wivell represented the county on a city-county committee that tried to resolve the dispute.

Wivell and Breichner said they are glad the dispute appears to be almost over.

Wivell said the verdict does not go as far as he would like but he can live with it. There are still some areas which the city and county will need to resolve, he said.

During a two-day trial on Sept. 8 and 9, William McC. Schildt of Hagerstown, the county's lawyer, argued the city violated a 1997 agreement detailing where each government body would provide sewer service.

Urner argued that the policy is legal and does not harm the county.

The lawsuit included Paul Crampton Contractors Inc. as a co-plaintiff. Crampton has development projects affected by the annexation policy.

Thayer's opinion said the city can't impose the annexation policy requirements on Crampton's Emerald Pointe and South Pointe developments.

Since the policy was adopted in September 2002, a city annexation committee has required 33 applicants to submit pre-annexation agreements and five applicants to submit annexation petitions as a condition of receiving water and/or sewer service, Planning Director Kathleen Maher said Thursday. The city has received 16 signed pre-annexation agreements and no petitions for annexation, she said.

The city's Annexation Review Committee has approved 39 requests for exemptions from the policy, she said.

The mayor and City Council have overturned on appeal two of the required pre-annexation agreements and one of the required petitions for annexation.

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