City, county agree to keep talking

February 26, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

City, county agree to keep talking

A meeting called to consider creating a joint water and sewer authority ended with Hagerstown and Washington County elected officials agreeing to sit down and talk some more.

Four options for creating a joint authority were presented by city and county water and sewer staff were virtually ignored by the City Council and the County Commissioners at a meeting Wednesday.

City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said talking about a joint authority was like Congress arguing about a balanced budget amendment without balancing the budget.


Metzner said the city and county should get together and talk about solving the problems of water and sewer instead of talking for the next year or two about how to set up a new authority.

"If we can't solve the problem between two elected bodies why should we believe that a group of citizens will solve the problem?" Metzner asked.

At the end of the 2 1/2 hour meeting, Commissioner James R. Wade and Councilman William M. Breichner agreed to sit down with both staffs in the next 30 days and look at one issue - whether and how sewage flow can be redirected from the city's sewer plant to the county's underused Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant without costing the city or its customers money.

County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said that a joint authority would address issues other than sewage flows. Rohrer said both the city and the county would save money by consolidating the two departments.

Rohrer recommended creating a task force that would examine all the issues and come up with a merger plan in the next year.

"This can work. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by pursuing a task force approach," Rohrer said.

Under Rohrer's proposal, the new authority would assume some debts from the city and the county departments and could issue bonds with the approval of the city, the county and any other municipalities that might join the authority.

The new agency would have total control over service boundaries without political interference, Rohrer said. The board members of the agency could be appointed or independently elected.

Breichner said joint authorities of the type Rohrer proposed have had problems across the country.

Gordon Crabb, a member of the county's Water and Sewer Advisory Commission, asked the city and county to pull together.

"This should not be about turf. It should be about what's best for the citizens of this county."

But Metzner said turf had to play a role because the City Council has a responsibility to look after the financial interests of its customers and residents.

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