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City approval expected on 95 parcel annexations

June 20, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — A group of 95 properties split by the Hagerstown city boundary likely will be annexed by the Hagerstown City Council, despite objections from a handful of affected property owners and two council members.

A majority of council members indicated their support for annexing all the split parcels proposed for annexation by city staff.

Council members Lewis C. Metzner and Forrest W. Easton did not support annexing all the properties.

Council members Ashley C. Haywood, Martin Brubaker and William Breichner said they supported annexing all the properties.

“It’s sort of amazing to me that the state of Maryland, in its infinite wisdom and glory, have decided, ‘Oh gee. Let’s give the municipalities a break and let them annex the properties that are partially in,’ and we are saying ‘Oh my goodness, no, we’re not going to do that,’” Breichner said.

“The reason that window was offered is because there are situations like this that are inequitable for municipalities,” Haywood said. “I am in favor of all of them.”

“As a council member of the city of Hagerstown, I think it is an advantage to live in the city,” Brubaker said. “I think we should take advantage whenever we can of expanding the city, cementing our tax base and offering these people the benefits of living in the city.”

By reaching a majority consensus June 7, the five-member council will vote on the annexation Tuesday without additional work sessions this month.

City Planner Alex Rohrbaugh said previously that city staff proposed annexing the 95 split parcels because many were cut by a 1914 city line, which he said was laid out as “an arbitrary rectangle.”

Split parcels are properties through which the municipal boundary passes, so only part of them is within city limits, according to city documents.

A state law, Senate Bill 350, gives municipalities the power to annex split parcels until Sept. 30 without obtaining approval from property owners or registered voters, Rohrbaugh said.

“We have a one-time opportunity. If it goes by, it won’t be back again,” Brubaker said.

Annexing the parcels would not only neaten the boundary, it would eliminate discrepancies between city and county services and taxes, Rohrbaugh said previously.

Easton questioned on June 7 exactly which properties were receiving city services without paying city taxes or vice versa.  

He provided Rohrbaugh and City Planning Director Kathy Maher with a list of 27 properties included for the annexation that he felt should be excluded.

“There’s 27 properties that I honestly have huge issues with,” he said.

Metzner said he would not support annexing properties where the owners expressed, on the record, their desire to not be part of the city of Hagerstown.

“I’m not one to believe people should be forced into annexation if they don’t want to be,” he said. “I think those folks who came and said they do not wish to be annexed, I would not agree to annex them, to force that annexation.”

However, Metzner and Easton said if those residents were receiving city services, those services should either be terminated or the owners should be charged outside rates. Metzner also said that, in fairness to other county residents, any property not annexed should not receive the tax differential. Easton also said the owners of excluded properties should not be eligible to vote in city elections.

Rohrbaugh said June 7 that all of the affected properties have been receiving Washington County’s tax differential.

City staff has data on each property that shows what city services are being received, what taxes are being paid and to which entity. Maher said that information could be provided to the council.

Despite repeated requests from Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II to have staff provide the council with that information, Easton and Metzner said that with the majority in favor of annexing all the properties, extra effort from staff to help narrow the list was not necessary.

Bruchey used one of the properties on the list, 1432 Marshall St., as his example June 7 when he said he did not think some of the parcels should be included.

Bruchey said that if he owned the Marshall Street property and less than 1/2 percent of his land was currently part of the city — as he said is the case with 1432 Marshall St. — he would not want to be annexed.

City Attorney John Urner warned Bruchey and the council to keep their decision within the bounds of the record for the annexation case.

Urner said the record included that more than adequate notice was provided to every affected property owner, 83 of whom did not offer any objections. It also included the objections offered by 12 owners at a public hearing on April 26.

Basing a decision on information or feelings of owners outside that record could open the city to litigation, he said.

“I think it would be a mistake to make a judgment on something that’s outside the record of this proceeding,” he said. “You need to make your decision within the four corners of that record or you are going to get competing interests and potential litigation.”

Bruchey’s urgings to have future work sessions about the annexation or to have city staff compile additional information were deemed "unnecessary" by Metzner and Easton.

The council has until the last week in July to approve the annexation or it will not be in effect before the bill sunsets on Sept. 30, Rohrbaugh said.

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