Delegates deny help for county water, sewer

February 07, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Delegates deny help for county water, sewer

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County's delegation in the Maryland General Assembly unanimously denied on Friday a request to have more than $10 million in county water and sewer debt forgiven by the state.

Delegation members said there would be no chance of getting the bill passed through the entire legislature.

"I think we need to make this clear: This (request) is like spitting in the wind in a 1,000 mph breeze," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

The County Commissioners had requested that the state forgive nearly $10.3 million in state loans and other obligations to lessen its $55 million water and sewer debt. The debt has led to rate increases for county water and sewer customers.


Munson and other lawmakers told the commissioners last fall that such a bill would surely meet a quick death, especially because it would set a precedent that would have cities and counties all over the state seeking similar relief.

"I wish we could do this for the citizens. We all wish we could do this for the citizens of Washington County. But this is just an impossible request, an impossible request," Munson said.

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said he was disappointed the commissioners pursued a request they knew had not chance of passage.

"It's almost as if (the commissioners said), "Let's shift the blame to the delegation,'" McKee said.

During its meeting, the delegation also delayed taking action the commissioners request to write into law its current practice of using taxpayer funds to subsidize the water and sewer system, which was intended to be a user-supported system.

Lawmakers expressed concern that the money was not a loan to the water and sewer system, but an outright grant. Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, also showed a letter from Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II in opposition of the county request because $840,000 of the $3.5 million subsidy comes from city residents who have their own water and sewer system.

But Del. J. Anita Stup, R-Frederick/Washington said the bickering between the city and county needs to end if the matter is ever resolved.

"I see an unwillingness on both sides to sit down and work this out," she said.

One water and sewer request the delegation did grant was to pursue legislation that would allow some of the debt to be offset by reforestation funds, which are currently paid to the state by developers who remove trees during their construction projects.

Stup did not give the plan much hope. Past attempts to amend the so-called tree bill have been met with stiff opposition.

"I don't see anything happening with reforestation, unfortunately," Stup said.

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