Commissioners hear comment on rate hikes

April 22, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

The Gilfus family doesn't wash the cars or water the yard, and showers are timed.

Despite the cutbacks and budgeting, the water bill for the family of five totaled more than $300 last quarter, said Michelle Gilfus, a working wife and mother of three, who lives in Cascade.

"That's a lot of money. You need to stop and think about young families and older people on fixed incomes," she told the Washington County Commissioners at a public hearing Tuesday night in the county courthouse.

Gilfus, one of about 8,000 water and sewer customers in Washington County, was one of about 20 county residents who showed up at the public hearing with comments and questions about proposed water and sewer rate increases and subsidies.


A dozen students from a state and local government class from Hagerstown Junior College also attended to observe.

The commissioners on April 7 voted 3-2 to increase water and sewer rates by 4 percent starting July 1 and to lower 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.

But paying more for water and sewer could mean older residents and others on fixed incomes will have to cut back on other necessities, several people said at the meeting.

Already bogged down with bills, including almost $500 a month in health insurance coverage, retired Cascade resident Janice Dunkin told the County Commissioners they'll see people move out of the county if their water and sewer bills go up.

If the rate is going to increase, Gilfus said she'd like to see the water consumption allowance raised with it to at least 10,000 gallons. The rate is now based on 6,000 gallons of consumption. Customers pay extra if they use more than the 6,000 gallons.

She and others at the meeting said they know people who live alone who use more than 6,000 gallons of water in a quarter.

With petitions in hand, John Bowman, a member of the Southwestern Metropolitan Area Civic Association Inc. of Washington County, said that the more than 1,000 people who signed are against taking money out of the general fund to help offset the county's water and sewer debt and want fair and equitable rates.

The county should seek funding help from the state and federal governments and pursue grant money to help reduce the $53 million debt, Bowman said.

He also said it's unfair that duplex and multi-housing units are paying only one rate but house several people.

"That's probably the biggest issue the advisory board is working on now," said Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

The commissioners will accept written comments on the topic from county residents for 10 days. Comments may be mailed to 100 W. Washington St., Hagerstown, Md. 21740.

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