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Water, sewer rate hikes discussed at hearing

March 30, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Rising water and sewer rates, which have doubled over the past five years for some residents and are expected to continue increasing, topped a list of complaints and concerns brought up by Washington County residents at a public hearing Tuesday.

Of the 15 people who spoke during the meeting, some called for a new rate structure that would benefit smaller users, and others either defended or attacked the use of money from county taxes to pay for water and sewer services.

About 40 people attended the meeting with the County Commissioners, during which county Water and Sewer Department Director Greg Murray explained the proposed rate increases for next year.

Under the proposal, the average residential customer using 12,000 gallons every three months would pay 90 cents more per month for sewer and 85 cents more per month for water, Murray said.

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Several residents asked how increasing rates, which are expected to keep going up well into the next decade, would affect senior citizens and poorer families.

Some said the county should adopt a new rate structure that would benefit customers who do not use a lot of water.

The current and proposed rate structures include a base charge for the first 6,000 gallons used, and some said they use much less than that and want the base amount and the charge lowered.

"I use only 2,300 gallons and I pay for 6,000 (gallons)," a man said.

A Hagerstown resident said he resented criticism of the practice of funding the water and sewer operation with county taxes.

Those who favor maintaining a county contribution to the fund say the water and sewer operation is an economic development tool benefiting all county residents.

The current proposal calls for $2.27 million in county taxes to go toward the water and sewer funds.

Others said county taxpayers should not subsidize water and sewer users.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II has said he wants the city to get a tax rebate if the county continues to use the general fund to balance its water and sewer budgets.

The commissioners have yet to formally adopt any rate increases.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he favored the proposed increase, but was keeping an open mind.

Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said he thought if a vote was taken now the proposal would pass by a 3-2 vote, with him and Commissioner William J. Wivell opting for a different proposal that called for a slightly lower rate increase and slightly higher general fund contribution.

Commissioner John L. Schnebly said something close to the current proposal probably will be adopted.

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