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Water, sewer rate hikes approved

April 13, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Washington County Commissioners hiked water and sewer rates Tuesday for the fourth straight year despite a last-minute push by one commissioner for a smaller rate increase.

Commissioner William J. Wivell repeated his support for the Water and Sewer Advisory Commission's proposal to increase the general fund contributions to water and sewer funds from $2.3 million this fiscal year to $3 million in fiscal 2000.

Increasing the general fund contribution would have resulted in slightly lower water and sewer rate increases for customers, but would have meant less money for the Board of Education and other county services.

Debra Bastian, county budget and finance director, recommended the $2.27 million general fund grant, which was the plan adopted by the commissioners.

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Wivell's comments came less than two hours after the commissioners informally adopted a balanced budget. Going with the advisory commission recommendation would have required the commissioners to make another $700,000 in budget cuts.

The commissioners voted 3-1 to increase water and sewer rates by 3 percent for sewer service and 2.5 percent for water. Wivell voted against the proposal and Commissioner Paul L. Swartz missed Tuesday's meeting for health reasons.

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, said Gregory Murray, director of the Washington County Water and Sewer Department.

Rate increases are effective July 1 for the departments more than 8,500 customers.

Advisory Commission Chairman Clarence Scheer on Monday said continued rate increases are stifling growth and economic development.

As proof he cited a letter from Maryland's top economic development official that said the state is "wasting staff time and resources" marketing Washington County because its high sewer and water fees and rates are scaring away manufacturers.

County fees are considered "excessive" by companies considering moving to the county, Richard C. Mike Lewin, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development, said in a March 18 letter to Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

Wivell mentioned the letter during Tuesday's meeting, marking the first time it has been discussed at a public meeting. He was concerned about the letter's implication that the county isn't competitive, he said.

The systemwide rate hike is the smallest since the commissioners took over the Washington County Sanitary Commission in December 1995 and took on its $54 million in debt.

The general fund grants are money that the Water and Sewer Department is not expected to pay back.

The commissioners are scheduled to present a balanced budget at an April 27 public hearing and adopt it on May 4.

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