County may hike water and sewer subsidy

April 29, 1997


Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners are considering increasing the $2.7 million annual subsidy of the Water and Sewer Department to $3.7 million to pay for a projected $1 million deficit at the Conococheague industrial pretreatment plant.

The commissioners' other choices include reallocating the $2.7 million budgeted to offset water and sewer rates to cover the pretreatment deficit and raising water and sewer rates more than already proposed, or closing down the plant.

Closing the plant would leave a projected $650,000 deficit that would have to be covered either through reallocating the $2.7 million or by increased tax revenue.


The County Commissioners voted 3-1 for a $3 million tax increase Monday.

The Water and Sewer Advisory Committee and Water and Sewer Director Greg Murray recommended that the pretreatment plant stay open until a marketing plan can be developed and implemented.

Murray said high-strength biological waste, which the plant was designed to handle, would go a long way toward making the plant profitable.

The plant treats low-revenue leachate and emulsified oily waste. Murray and the committee recommended that the emulsified waste be eliminated as of July 1.

Mack Trucks is the only customer that would be affected, and Murray said the truckmaker could take its waste elsewhere at only a moderate increase in cost.

The advisory commission asked the County Commissioners to hold water and sewer rates steady July 1 and cut projected operating expenses.

Last year's Black and Veatch study of water and sewer rates projected a series of rate increases ranging as high as 14 percent over the next 10 years.

County staff has recommended charging the average customer using 12,000 gallons 11.3 percent more for sewer and 2.39 percent more for water.

"I don't think we can go out with good heart and good conscience and say we're not going to increase rates," Commissioner James R. Wade said.

County Finance Director Debra Bastian said any reductions in rate hikes this year would mean higher increases in the future.

The increases, and those faced last year by most customers, won't make the department self-sufficient, according to county budget documents.

Even with the $3.7 million in proposed subsidy for next year, the deficit would have been even higher if the county hadn't restructured its debt last year. About $6 million was borrowed to pay the interest for three years on the department's $54.8 million debt.

After three years, the full debt service will have to be paid.

According to county staff, the water and sewer debt has increased from $54.8 million last year to $56 million as of March 31.

Also Monday:

  • The County Commissioners put $100,000 more into the proposed budget to pay up to 25 percent of fire companies' fuel and utility costs and $48,200 to pay for a study of fire and rescue service funding.
  • The commissioners proposed freezing the Washington County Commission on Aging budget at $319,500.
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