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Wade criticizes Bowers' call for audit

May 31, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Washington County Commissioner James R. Wade accused fellow Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers Friday of trying to cover up his role in creating financial problems for the county by calling for an audit of the Water and Sewer Department.

"Ron created this crisis and is doing his best to cover up his involvement by claiming he doesn't know or `nobody told me,'" Wade said.

Wade said the heat was on Bowers because of the water and sewer problems and said Bowers was looking for a way out by playing dumb.

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"Ron is simply grandstanding," Wade said. "There has been a public audit every year since the 1960s. Apparently, Ron has not read them. He claims he doesn't know the debt total, when he is the only commissioner in office throughout this crisis."

A list supplied by Wade of audited debt numbers for water and sewer operations for the past two years shows a $55 million debt as of June 30, 1996. County staff has said that the debt was in excess of $56 million as of March 31.

Bowers called for an independent audit of the water and sewer department earlier this week and said the commissioners aren't doing enough to expand the use of the Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Bowers said the commissioners should build more sewer lines instead of plowing $3.53 million in taxpayer dollars into the water and sewer department each year.

"This board has failed in addressing this problem," Bowers said Friday. "The answer to this problem is not the constant raising of rates. They raised the rates at the landfill and they lost money."

Wade said Bowers' desire to lay more sewer lines was another example of what he called Bowers' "build it and they will come" philosophy that created excess capacity and huge debts in the first place.

"What I'm trying to do is get a figure that's not a continually moving target," Bowers said Friday. He said he wanted to know what the debt was for each subdistrict before the commissioners merged the districts last year. Bowers also said he wanted to know how much debt was being paid off by the $3.53 million subsidy and how much was being paid off by users.

"There is nobody in the community that can tell where all this money is going," he said.

Bowers said he wasn't trying to score political points. "I'm not after a political fight for water and sewer. I'm out looking at how can we address the problem that we have."

Bowers said the "crisis" was a creation of The Herald-Mail newspaper and Black and Veatch, a consulting firm that issued a study of water and sewer rates for the commissioners last year.

"What caused this whole ruckus was an ineffective presentation by Black and Veatch to the commissioners. It was exaggerated beyond common sense," Bowers said. Bowers said Black and Veatch vastly overestimated future costs and underestimated growth.

Asked about Wade's comments that there was a crisis, Bowers said, "I think that there is that old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

Bowers said he preferred to call the water and sewer situation "an opportunity."

Bowers said it wasn't productive to blame people for decisions that were made in the past, such as building the Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant, an industrial pretreatment facility.

"We don't need to look back and criticize everybody who was back there and helped get it here."

Bowers said the sitting County Commissioners have made a lot of bad decisions, but said the commissioners should "move on instead of creating turf battles amongst elected officials."

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