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County shrinks sewer subsidy

April 07, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $700,000 cut in the amount to be taken from the county's general fund to subsidize water, sewer and pretreatment services.

The commissioners voted 3 to 2 to cut the taxpayer contribution from $3.53 million to $2.83 million in the budget year that begins July 1.

The commissioners also approved a 4 percent rate increase for water and sewer customers effective July 1. The increase would cost the average customer $16 more for water and $14 more for sewer each year.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook joined Commissioners James R. Wade, who made the motion, and R. Lee Downey to vote in favor of the cut. Commissioners John S. Shank and Ronald L. Bowers voted against the cut.

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Wade said the more money used to subsidize water and sewer the less the county would have available to spend on education and the like.

"I think we need to look at the needs of the entire county. When we can, we need to reduce that contribution," he said.

To offset the subsidy reduction, higher rate increases will be needed in the future. Instead of 4 percent annual sewer rate increases through 2008, increases of 5 percent to 6 percent are projected.

Bowers made a motion to increase the subsidy to $4.53 million, but the motion failed.

A $1 million subsidy increase to $4.53 million, recommended by the Water and Sewer Advisory Commission, would have provided $1.3 million for future sewer projects.

The increase would have been funded through this year's projected $4 million surplus.

Bowers said in an interview that the county must spend money to extend sewer service to achieve increased use of the Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Shank said he favored neither the $1 million increase nor the $700,000 cut.

He said sewers help protect the environment for everybody, not just sewer customers.

"People countywide have an obligation for the sewer debt," said Shank, who wanted to keep the funding level the same.

Downey said the Water and Sewer Department probably could partially offset the subsidy reduction by charging more money to owners of apartment complexes. The sewer rate for apartments generally is lower than that for single-family homes.

Downey said the Water and Sewer Department will save $200,000 a year because it no longer pays finance employees. That expense has been shifted to another department and is paid from the general fund.

A projected increase in revenue at the Conococheague Industrial Pretreatment Facility makes possible another $300,000 of the cut.

It's projected that the pretreatment facility will require $532,000 in subsidies next year.

Snook said the county is headed in the right direction compared to two years ago. Then, rate increases were projected as high as 14 percent a year for several years.

The county has about 8,000 water and sewer customers and $53 million in water, sewer and pretreatment debt.

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