After a 15-year battle over how much Baltimore County residents should pay the city for their water, officials from both jurisdictions declared a truce yesterday and agreed to settle their differences outside the courtroom.
About the only thing certain from yesterday's agreement was that the city can now use $12 million the county owed for underpayment of water bills between 1983 and 1993.
The city has already collected the money over the last three years -- but couldn't use it until now -- and county officials say they don't anticipate rate increases for county customers. The two sides will have to decide how much the county will pay in the future.
"We agreed that we would try to reach an agreement," said George G. Balog, director of Public Works for Baltimore. "I feel optimistic that we will reach an agreement."
Mr. Balog said the $12 million freed yesterday after a session in Baltimore County Circuit Court can be used for only for water projects. It cannot go to the city's general fund.
The reservoirs that supply both jurisdictions are owned and operated by the city but are located in the county. The city has been providing water to the county -- ostensibly at its cost -- for the last 70 years.
But in 1979, then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer told the county that a city-paid consultant had decided the county was not paying enough.
By state law, if the city and county cannot agree on how much the county should pay for water, they must go to arbitration to resolve the dispute. But over the years, the county resisted.
In 1987, the city sued and forced the county to go to arbitration. By 1991, a three-member arbitration panel had ruled in favor of the city, saying the county owed $10.2 million for underpayments that began in 1983. The total has increased to $12 million since then.
The county appealed the arbitration award but lost in Circuit Court as well as the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court. Now the two sides are dickering over the accounting method used to determine the county's obligation. The county wanted the arbitration board to resolve the differences, a move the city opposed. The two sides were scheduled to argue the matter in court yesterday when they announced an agreement to try to work it out themselves.