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Sager balks at regional water/sewer authority

March 26, 1997

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

Hagerstown Mayor Steven T. Sager tried to nix discussion of a joint city and Washington County water and sewer authority but several council members took a more conciliatory approach Tuesday at a joint City Council and County Commissioners meeting.

The 21/2-hour meeting in City Hall, which covered a range of issues including how the city could help the county with its financially troubled water and sewer system, turned heated when the subject of a joint authority was raised.

"Are you saying that you're not willing to begin a discussion of some kind of regional authority?" County Commissioner James R. Wade asked Sager.

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"The answer is no. We have no interest in a regional authority. We have interest in regional cooperation," Sager responded. "We are not prepared to give up ownership, control of the system."

Washington County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers compared the county Water and Sewer Department's $54 million debt to the city's projected $39 million water and sewer debt. Customers of both systems face rate increases, although the county's are larger.

The city, unlike the county, has the customer base to cover its debt, Sager said.

The city has about 38,000 water and sewer accounts compared to the county's 8,600 accounts, according to officials.

The city has made a list of ways it can help the county but that list doesn't include forming a regional authority, Sager said.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein suggested that city and county staffs "hammer out" alternative solutions.

Councilman Mark Jameson said he has heard the arguments against an authority and he would be willing to hear the case for one.

Councilman Lewis Mentzer said, "no one seems to want to discuss what makes eminent sense - pooling resources ... We never take the next step."

"I would be happy to meet with you guys to discuss anything," Mentzer added.

"I accept your offer," Wade said.

Councilman William M. Breichner said the city and county should discuss some kind of consolidation of water and sewer services.

"That's fine as long as they don't get their hopes up," Sager said.

"I'm offended by that," Breichner shot back.

The City Council and County Commissioners agreed to give their staffs until May to consolidate into one agreement about a dozen sewer service agreements between the two governments.

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