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City responds to annexation ruling

November 19, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

In a written statement released Tuesday, the Hagerstown City Council responded for the first time to a decision in a lawsuit regarding the city's controversial annexation policy.

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

While county government officials on Friday said they are satisfied with the decision, city government officials withheld comment until after meeting with the city attorney before Tuesday's work session. The mayor released the statement during the work session.

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

Thayer, who presided over a trial in Washington County Circuit Court, wrote that he agrees with the county's argument that the city can't impose the annexation policy's requirements on people in the "designated area" covered by the 1997 General Services Agreement.

But Thayer rejected the county's request to block the city from imposing its annexation policy anywhere else in the county.

"The court's decision therefore contained victory and loss for each party. Each party has a right to appeal this decision to the Court of Special Appeals," the city said in a written statement.

"If no appeals are taken, the city will conform the application of the sewer policy section of the annexation policy to the court's decision. It will also meet with any owner of property within the designated area, who has had annexation required as a condition of obtaining city sewer and relieve them of such requirements," the city said.

Breichner said the city will amend the policy as needed.

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.

"The city's ability to grow by expanding its boundaries is crucial to the city's financial health, and the vindication of its right to have this annexation policy is an important part of a sound growth policy.

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