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Smithsburg to see water, sewer hike

March 15, 1999|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

SMITHSBURG - Smithsburg water and sewer customers likely will see an increase in their bills this year but just how much hasn't been determined.

The town's water and sewer budget is running at a $56,000 deficit, according to Mayor Tommy Bowers.

Smithsburg owns and maintains its own sewage-collection system but pays the Washington County Water and Sewer Department a wholesale rate for treating the town's sewage.

The town's water and sewer budget is in the red because Smithsburg's rates are too low to cover costs to the county and for maintenance of the system, Bowers said.

"We are paying out more than we are taking in," he said.

The town has about 800 water and sewer customers.

Under one proposal, rates would go up 2 percent for in-town users and 3 percent for out-of-town users.

A typical customer using 12,000 gallons a quarter would pay an extra $6.40 a year for water and sewer. Such customers who now pay $314.40 annually for water and sewer would see their bills increase to $320.80 a year.

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For out-of-town customers, the 2 percent hike would result in an annual increase from $380 to $392.60, or $11.60 a year.

The town pays the county $3.40 per 1,000 gallons of water. Smithsburg charges in-town customers $20.40 and out-of-town customers $26.70 for a minimum usage of 6,000 gallons of water per quarter.

Sewer rates for the same usage and time frame are $30.60 for those living in town and $40.05 for those who live out of town.

Facing county water and sewer price increases in 1997, the town started a five-year plan of increases of its own. The first increase was 12 percent for town customers and 15 percent for out-of-town users.

In 1998, the Town Council approved a 2 percent rate hike in town and 3 percent rate hike for out-of-town customers. The third year of the plan calls for another 2 percent and 3 percent hike. The fourth year it's to be 4 percent and 5 percent and the final year 9 percent and 10 percent.

Bowers said the rate increase is subject to change each year. It is evaluated and voted on by the council.

Bowers said he was unsure whether the projected 2 percent and 3 percent increases would be enough this year.

"I'm not sure. We are in the middle of negotiations with our accountant," he said.

Smithsburg employs the Hagerstown accounting firm of Albright, Crumbacker, Moul & Itell.

Councilman David A. Williams said he anticipates the increase will be a minimum of 2 percent and could be as high as 7 percent to cover the town's debts.

Smithsburg Council will be presented with a tentative budget by April 1, according to town Treasurer Betsy Martin.

Bowers said a plan to replace the town's old water meters eventually will help bring costs down.

He said water meters begin to lose their accuracy after four years. Most of the town's are at least five years old and some are 20 years old, he said.

He said the town also needs to pass an ordinance against residents' whose rainwater runs into the sewers. This causes the town needless expense because the town must pay the county to treat water for contaminants it does not contain.

"It needs to be done. There has been years of neglect. The last administration started paying attention to it and we need to continue," Bowers said.

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