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Delegation asks governor for debt help

March 27, 1998

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County's delegation in the Maryland General Assembly is seeking forgiveness of $4.83 million in water and sewer loans owed by the county, despite the skepticism of some lawmakers and warnings from state officials that it cannot be done.

On Friday the eight-member delegation sent a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening formally asking for help in dealing with some of the county's $53 million water and sewer debt. It specifically named six construction projects that were "all mandated by the state of Maryland to protect the health of the affected citizens."

"We have nothing to lose but to ask and try," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

Ever since the commissioners first offered a debt-forgiveness proposal last year, there was skepticism from lawmakers who said forgiving debt would set a dangerous precedent in the state. If the state helps one county, they asked, what would stop others for asking for similar help?

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And a state Department of the Environment spokesman said a month ago the law does not allow his agency, which oversees the operation of water and sewer systems, to forgive loans.

Lawmakers decided to ask the governor anyway, saying they were never told the Department of the Environment does not forgive loans.

Their letter said the projects the county is seeking debt forgiveness for are all consistent with the governor's "smart growth" initiative to target spending on sewers and other public services in existing communities.

The letter also cites information from the county Health Department that the unique geological conditions in the county increase the chances of groundwater contamination in wells.

Despite such arguments, there is still some skepticism that the state would actually forgive the loans.

"It doesn't hurt to ask, but I would guess it probably won't happen," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington.

Glendening spokesman Ray Feldmann said the governor would not comment until he sees the letter.

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