The state's highest court is to take up the question today of whether Anne Arundel County can waive some requirements for new developments in exchange for money and land.
Two lower courts have rejected claims by Halle Development Inc. and Arundel Homes Inc. that the county should refund money the companies say was illegally collected from them - as well as millions it got from other individuals and builders for more than a decade.
The case before the Court of Appeals focuses on waiver contracts. In exchange for money and land that the county said would be used for schools, roads and other public facilities, the county exempted recipients from laws that tied approval of new developments to adequate school and road capacity.
There is no deadline for the court to make a ruling.
School waivers, the most common, were such a volatile issue a few years ago that approvals by the administration of County Executive John G. Gary weighed heavily in his 1998 defeat by Janet S. Owens, who vowed not to sign off on more waivers where schools were overcrowded.
"What [county officials] have done is develop a process that is tantamount to extortion," said John R. Greiber Jr., lawyer for the developers.
In legal briefs, he contends that the waiver charges were illegal taxes, and that state law requires a county to get approval from the General Assembly to levy new taxes. The lower court rulings, he argues, give a green light to other local governments to levy new taxes by labeling them differently to get around the General Assembly.
In the largest contract at issue, Anne Arundel County and companies controlled by Warren B. "Cookie" Halle agreed in 1989 that in exchange for permission to build the Seven Oaks community in Odenton, Halle would pay about $4.7 million to the county and provide 16 acres for a school site.
But Halle, who has often sued the county, defaulted on payments. The agreement became the subject of a legal settlement that the county contends Halle cannot undo with this lawsuit.