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Hagerstown council OKs amended split-parcel annexation resolution

July 27, 2011

HAGERSTOWN — Months of debating property rights versus city services ended Tuesday when the Hagerstown City Council approved an amended split-parcel annexation.

In a final 4-1 vote, the council approved annexing all 95 proposed split-parcels into the city effective Sept. 9, despite another impassioned plea from a property owner.

"I don't want to be in this city and this is really, really ticking me off," said Teresa Magaha, whose property on Key Circle was annexed.

However, as amended, the annexation resolution allows all 95 property owners to pay graduated city taxes — even those currently paying full city taxes — starting at 20 percent in fiscal 2013, and increasing 20 percentage points per year to 100 percent in fiscal 2017 and beyond.

Split parcels are properties through which a municipal boundary line passes  and are only partially within city limits.

City staff members proposed annexing the split parcels to take advantage of a state window that gives municipalities the power to do so until Sept. 30, 2011, City Planner Alex Rohrbaugh said previously.

Annexing the parcels would not only clean up city boundary lines, it would eliminate discrepancies between city and county services and taxes, he said previously.

It would also add an estimated $8.7 million to the city tax base, according to city documents.

"I'd say that would bring in, and this is a ballpark, about $50,000 in taxes," Rohrbaugh previously estimated as the annual tax impact.

Until Tuesday, council members were divided 3-2 on the annexation, with a majority favoring total annexation of all 95 parcels.

Numerous attempts at compromise with opposing council members and Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II failed to receive majority support during work sessions.

Councilman Forrest W. Easton said he was unwilling to let the measure go to a final vote Tuesday without trying again to strike a balance.

To meet the state deadline, the council needed to approve the annexation by the end of July because it takes 45 days from approval for the resolution to become effective.  

As a last-ditch effort, Easton put the proposal for a graduated tax on the floor.

And he was met with majority approval.

"I do think this compromise allows people time to figure out how they will pay the taxes or sell their property, if they do not want to be in the city," Easton said.

In addition, it is an incentive similar to those provided to businesses that annex into the city, he said.

A true compromise, no council member left the table completely happy Tuesday, but all were pleased that the board reached middle ground.

"This proposal doesn't make me happy, it's painful," Easton said. "But I think everybody giving a little bit alleviates some issue for some of the folks that feel they are being forced into the city."

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner cast the only vote against the amended resolution.

"It is almost a perfect solution," he said. "It's going to be good enough to get a 4-1 vote. I can't vote for it."

At the heart of the city's split-parcel annexation debate were competing city and property owner interests.

City staff saw the annexation a means to reconcile a complex situation and add to the tax base, while property owners who spoke against the resolution opposed the idea that the city could force them into residency.

All but three parcels are residential, according to city documents.

Of the 95 parcels, 89 are developed, 17 do not have city sewer, 12 do not have city water and three have county sewer, city documents said.

Hagerstown Light Department, which has a fixed service boundary, supplies 53 of the parcels with power, while the remaining developed parcels receive service from Allegheny Power, now called Potomac Edison, the plan said.

Once the annexation becomes effective on Sept. 9, the city will equally extend services and, starting July 1, 2012, taxes to all the property owners, with the exception of city light, which cannot expand its service area.

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