A lawsuit challenging New Market’s expansion plans cost the town more than $44,000 in legal expenses in the last two years — the equivalent of about 11 percent of its fiscal 2013 budget, according to municipal officials.
Now, New Market officials say they are concerned that legal costs from an appeal filed Dec. 19 could further reduce funding for town services, such as the law-enforcement services, sidewalk repair and snow removal.
“[The lawsuit] is the definition of frivolous,” Mayor Winslow Burhans III said. “[Because of it] I have to toss around nickels like manhole covers for public safety.”
The original lawsuit was filed by the Friends of Frederick County in February 2011.
The Friends of Frederick County — a nonprofit, nonpartisan group formed to help fight urban sprawl — alleged that the town’s comprehensive plan, adopted in 2005, did not meet state requirements and failed to plan properly for growth, which could damage to the environment and produce higher taxes.
Thirteen landowners with New Market addresses and the Audubon Society of Central Maryland were also listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
On Nov. 21, Frederick County Circuit Court Judge Theresa Adams dismissed the complaint, finding the town was in compliance with state law.
Janice Wiles, executive director of the Friends of Frederick County, said that the group decided to appeal the decision because it still believes that the town has not met state requirements.
“We feel that New Market should follow the rules,” she said. “Planning is a long in-depth process, and you really have to consider all the impacts and how you are going to mitigate them ... that has not been done in New Market.”
Three large parcels of land were earmarked for annexation as part of the plan, including the Smith/Cline and Delaphine properties.
The town held a public hearing on Monday night about the annexation of the two properties, which encompass almost 400 acres.
Owners of the Smith/Cline property are seeking a medium density residential zoning classification, while the Delaphine tract owners are seeking to be annexed under a recently adopted “economic flex zoning” classification.
The Friends of Frederick County argues that the town’s comprehensive plan doesn’t adequately address the updates to infrastructure or public services that would be needed with the addition of the three annexations.
The total cost of the lawsuit to the town was $44,075, or about $63 for each resident, Burhans said.
In the last two years, the town’s legal budget has almost doubled from about $17,000 to $30,000 as a result of the lawsuit, he said. For fiscal 2013, the town’s budget was $341,653.
In addition, the town last year had to cut the budget for Christmas in New Market, the annual town holiday celebration, and New Market Days, a festival celebrating the town’s historic past, to cover its legal expenses. The town events were canceled.
Councilman David Price said he’s concerned that the litigation costs to challenge the original lawsuit and appeal will begin to affect funding for public safety.
“We’re going to have to squeeze more and more out of less,” he said. “What [is bad] is the first time we can’t plow a road it will be because of Friends of Frederick County ... I’m concerned, I’m upset and I’m downright mad, and I hope the town residents will feel the same way.”
Besides cutting some funding for services, Price said other ways of replacing the funds could include raising taxes.
The Friends of Frederick County has filed several unsuccessful lawsuits previously in the county and the city, each time challenging development.
Their most recent lawsuit, filed in December, alleges that the Frederick County Board of Commissioners illegally rezoned 9,000 acres of county farmland.
Wiles said that the cost of rectifying the problems in the New Market comprehensive plan should outweigh the cost of the litigation to town residents.
“These lawsuits aren’t frivolous, they are absolutely in the interest of Frederick County,” she said. “The cost of the lawsuit is minimal to what the mayor is trying to impose.”
She said the group receives most of its funding from grants and private donations.
The price of the recent appeal in New Market will depend on the length of the process, Burhans said.
“We’re going to move forward,” he said.