A year later, taxpayers' roar subsides

June 05, 1997


Staff Writer

What a difference a year makes. At one of last year's hearings on Washington County's water and sewer crisis, 1,000 angry citizens showed up at North Hagerstown High School's auditorium to vent their anger at the County Commissioners. Wednesday night, fewer than 15 showed up at the Washington County Courthouse.

The few people who did show for the hearing on water and sewer rate hikes weren't happy.

June Myers of Hagerstown said the reason why more people didn't show up was because they figured the commissioners were going to do what they wanted no matter what people said.

"What if every one of these seats were filled? You'd still sit there with those pompous looks on your faces," she said.


"This is an awful thing you are going to do," she said, referring to increases in water and sewer rates. "This is almost communist ... I don't see how you all sleep at night knowing all the elderly people that are on fixed incomes."

"It's the first time I've ever seen this panel outnumber this audience, and I'm really dismayed," said Bob DeVinney, president of the Southwest Metropolitan Area Civic Association.

DeVinney said the system should be divided back into subdistricts, so profitable areas wouldn't have to subsidize unprofitable ones. DeVinney also said the water and sewer users shouldn't have to pay for economic development projects.

`Looking for the scoundrels'

Phyllis Walsh, who lives near Williamsport, said she paid for her own well and septic without any county subsidy. "I object to any percentage of my taxes being used (for water and sewer) because we pay for our own," she said.

Water and Sewer Director Greg Murray said that the water and sewer debt rose from $10 million in 1989 to $32 million in 1990 to $56 million in 1997.

"Somebody ought to be out there looking for the scoundrels who made these decisions four or five years ago," said Foster Warren, of the Highfield/Cascade area. "The resale value of homes is plummeting because of the water and sewer rates ... The voters of this county should be up in arms."

The proposed sewer rates for next year are 5 percent higher for residential customers and up to 13 percent higher for large commercial users. Water rate hikes will cost the average customer about 2.4 percent more.

Murray showed a chart projecting future rate increases rising to 9 percent next year and the year after that before gradually falling back each year for the next 10 years to pay rising debt costs.

Murray also said county tax dollars will pay about one-third of the $7.27 million sewer operating budget and a quarter of the $1 million water operating budget.

Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers did not attend the hearing due to the death of a friend.

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