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Mayor, town council reject utility company's proposal

March 09, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

WILLIAMSPORT - The Williamsport Mayor and Town Council have rejected a utility company's franchise proposal.

Columbia Gas of Maryland Inc.'s proposal at Monday's meeting was a "last-ditch effort," said Rhonda A. McDaniel, marketing representative for the utility.

The Mayor and Council unanimously agreed that the proposal differed from the limited agreement for installation of underground gas lines that the Council had voted in favor of in January.

"This is not even a good faith offer based upon the discussions we've had," said Town Attorney Edward L. Kuczynski. "The Council has wasted five months of discussion to end up with a proposal that doesn't in any way comport with past discussions."

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Those talks had resulted in an agreement that would limit the utility company from expanding beyond the scope of a current project. The imposed franchise tax would offset the potential loss of electric revenue.

The rejected proposal embodies a full franchise agreement, giving Columbia Gas of Maryland Inc. the right to install gas lines throughout the town, Kuczynski said.

The Washington County Housing Authority had contracted with the utility to supply Springfield Manor.

Springfield Manor is an extension of the Housing Authority's Park View Knoll, a senior housing community in Williamsport.

The original agreement limited installation to a route from the existing gas main at Williamsport Nursing Home, through several alleys and across Md. 63 and U.S. 11, and up Church Street. The line would end near the three Williamsport Schools.

The Washington County Board of Education had supported the gas line project, said Dennis McGee, director of facilities management for Washington County schools.

Equipped with dual-burner boilers, the Williamsport elementary and high schools can heat with either oil or gas. Springfield Middle School is all electric.

The School Board wanted the opportunity to choose the cheapest fuel to heat the schools, McGee said.

Williamsport owns its electricity. The town buys power from Allegheny Energy and distributes it to customers within city limits.

Kuczynski had said if the School Board decided to convert to gas in the future, the economic loss could be substantial.

The new utility franchise agreement guaranteed Williamsport a $50 sign-on bonus, $75 annually for the first five years, and $100 per year for the next five years. After 10 years, the town would get $200 annually.

Kuczynski recommended the Mayor and Town Council reject such a contract and refuse further negotiation with the utility.

"The monetary amounts are pitiful for what you may be losing as far as revenue goes," he said.

Jeanie Owens, area manager for Columbia Gas, said the utility is trying to discourage franchise agreements. She said the Williamsport contract was modeled after similar agreements in other Maryland towns.

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