Water, sewer rates in Smithsburg may rise 38-46%


SMITHSBURG - After years of spending more from the town's water and sewer funds than has come in, Smithsburg Town Council members plan to balance things out by raising rates.

Smithsburg's Town Council on Tuesday approved a first reading of the town's water and sewer budget, with Mayor Tommy Bowers casting the tie-breaking vote.

The Town Council will take a final vote on the budget during a special meeting June 10 at 7 p.m.

Water and sewer rates would increase by 38 percent for in-town users, while out-of-town users would pay 46 percent more, according to a proposal presented by Smithsburg's accountant, Anthony J. Datillio of Albright Crumbacker Moul & Itell LLP.

Under the increase, an average town customer using 11,000 to 13,000 gallons per quarter would pay about $120 more a year, or $436 total. That includes $174 a year for water and $262 for sewer.


Out-of-town customers using the same amount of water would pay about $174 more - $214 for water and $342 for sewer, or about $556 a year.

"We succeeded for years in keeping the rates artificially low. The days of doing that are gone," said Councilman David Williams.

Over the past three years, the town has used $400,000 from its reserves to subsidize water and sewer costs and keep rates down.

But that fund is almost gone, Bowers said. He said he wasn't sure how much remains in the reserve account.

The increases would balance the town's water and sewer budgets, Bowers said.

Under the plan, most of the town's water fund connection fees would be used for physical improvements and not for operating expenses as has been the case in previous budgets, he said.

The town's water and sewer budget is in the red because Smithsburg's rates are too low to cover the costs of buying water from Hagerstown and sending sewage to a Washington Country treatment facility, Bowers said.

In addition, Smithsburg has incurred costs to repair and upgrade water lines, he said.

The town has already spent at least $81,000 more this year than has come into its sewer fund. The water fund debt amount was unavailable, Bowers said.

Council members Williams and Thomas Hornbecker voted in favor of the rate increases while Michael Rohrer and James Cunningham III voted against the measure. Councilman Charles Slick was absent.

The mayor, who votes only in case of a tie, voted in favor of the rate hikes.

Rohrer and Cunningham said they liked the idea of getting the water and sewer budgets under control, but the increases were too high to impose in one year.

They supported a plan that would eliminate large-user discounts and would impose smaller rate increases to be followed up by an evaluation of the situation the next year.

"It would do what we want this year and gives us a chance to regroup," said Rohrer.

The town currently pays Washington County $3.40 per 1,000 gallons each quarter for its sewer treatment. Those rates will increase by 7.6 percent to $3.66 on July 1.

City water rates for the town are $1.39 per 1,000 gallons. Hagerstown rates also are expected to increase, but Bowers has not been officially notified of the amount, he said.

Smithsburg has about 800 water and sewer customers.

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