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County rates a sewer point with the state

April 15, 1999

Perhaps I was hearing things, but I could have sworn that county leaders told us some time back that the great Washington County sewer crisis of 1996 had been solved.

We'd turned the corner, washed our hands of it, so to speak and it was time to stop dwelling on it and to move on.

But apparently someone forgot to send the press releases to the State of Maryland's economic development secretary, who last month wrote that the state was "wasting its time" trying to help Washington County recruit new industry because its industrial sewer rates are through the roof.

Now you might think it's a big deal when the state's top business leader says your industrial climate is so bad it's not even worth the effort, but you would clearly be wrong.

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And as a source for that, I will cite our County Commissioners, who were so unconcerned they didn't even bother to show the letter to their own sewer chief.

They said it has only cost us a couple of industries so far, so it's "not a trend." Of course if only one comet hits earth every million years, that's not a trend either, so until the earth has been destroyed 10 or 12 times over you shouldn't let it bother you.

The commissioners say they get lots of letters, so they didn't see any reason to give this one any special attention. They said they can't react to every letter they get.

No, I suppose not. But it seems as if you were going to react to, oh, I don't know, one letter every decade, there's a good strong argument that this might be the one.

In it, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development secretary Mike Lewin writes that "Recent attempts to attract manufacturers to Washington County have failed due to the Conococheague Waste Water Treatment Plant tap-in fees."

For example, he said, the original hook-up quote for one plant was $2.7 million. The company eventually went to a Virginia county where the fee was $100,000.

Therefore, Lewin said, "It is obvious that we are wasting staff time and resources on industrial recruitment in Washington County..."

Again, those might sound like significant words to us, but we are obviously not close enough to the situation to possess a firm understanding.

Not that there's a lot of competition, but in some of the most accurate words he's ever spoken, County Administrator Rod Shoop said "Our economy in Washington County speaks for itself."

And he's right. Why the economy in Washington County is so good that many people I know have not one job, but two. They work in a warehouse during the day and since that's not enough to feed a family, they deliver pizzas at night. Who could ask for a better situation than that?

There was a pure Washington County-like moment in the parody newspaper The Onion this week. In their man-on-the-street interviews, people are asked for their reaction to the stock market breaking the 10,000 mark. One guy responds that he's happy about it because "it makes me optimistic that one day my salary may break the $10,000 mark."

And now the final irony in the sewer calamity. We ostensibly built up all this sewer capacity to attract new business. But it's costing us so much to pay for the sewer system that we have to charge rates so high that no sewer-using business will come here.

Beautiful. It's like we borrowed $10,000 to buy an elephant with the idea of paying for it by charging for elephant rides. But the elephant eats so much that to pay for its food and pay off the loan we have to charge $500 a ride. Then we wonder why no kids show up.

But of course in Washington County that wouldn't be construed as a problem.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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