Public has chance to speak on rate hikes

April 20, 1998|By STEVEN T. DENNIS

The public will get its turn to tell the Washington County Commissioners what they think about water and sewer rate increases and subsidies at a hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Courtroom One of the Washington County Courthouse.

The commissioners voted 3-2 on April 7 for increasing water and sewer rates by 4 percent starting July 1 and lowering the county's annual cash subsidy of water, sewer and pretreatment services from $3.53 million to $2.83 million.

The rate increase would cost the average customer $16 more for water and $14 more for sewer each year.

The commissioners can change their minds after the public hearing.

Commissioners James R. Wade, R. Lee Downey and Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook voted to drop the subsidy by $700,000 and increase rates 4 percent.

Commissioners John S. Shank and Ronald L. Bowers voted against a drop in subsidies and for a 3 percent rate increase.


Bowers wanted to increase the subsidy to $4.53 million, which was recommended by the Water and Sewer Advisory Commission to help pay for new sewer projects.

The sewer rate increase would be less than half the 9 percent increase projected last year.

Several factors have combined to brighten the picture for the county's water and sewer system, which is plagued by a $53 million debt and a dearth of customers.

A 15 percent cut in operating costs and cheaper-than-expected pollution control measures anticipated from closing the Nicodemus Wastewater Treatment Plant have helped keep a lid on rates.

The Water and Sewer Department's financial staff also was transferred to the Department of Budget and Finance, with county taxpayers picking up the $200,000 a year tab.

The county's money-losing Conococheague Industrial Pretreatment Plant is also beginning to show signs of life.

The county hopes revenue at the plant will quadruple in the year starting July 1 from $100,000 to $400,000 because of marketing efforts. Operating and marketing costs of about $1 million bring the expected loss next year to $600,000, which is still a $300,000 improvement.

The county has about 8,000 water and sewer customers.

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