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Wivell fights Snook's request

August 04, 2000

Wivell fights Snook's request



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer


Washington County Commissioner William J. Wivell has sent a letter to the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly calling "premature" a county request to consider dropping a state requirement to continue annual subsidies to water and sewer funds.

Commissioners President Gregory Snook made that request at a July 28 joint meeting of the delegation and the County Commissioners. It had not been discussed previously by the commissioners at any meetings.

The legislation in question is part of a three-bill package approved earlier this year that doubled the county's hotel-motel tax to 6 percent, bringing in money that could be used to finance a new baseball stadium. Some of the new tax revenue would go to organizations the county funds, freeing up money to be applied to the county's $52.3 million sewer and water debt.

Snook and County Administrator Rodney Shoop say the law, which requires the county to continue subsidizing water, sewer and pretreatment funds, could interfere with county attempts to improve its bond rating, a contention Wivell disputes.

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Delegate Chris Shank, R-Washington, said Wivell's letter and the information it contains makes him more wary of the county request.

Shank agreed with Wivell that the request was premature. He would prefer the five County Commissioners discuss the issue and vote on it before asking the delegation to act on it, he said.

Wivell and Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said they would vote against the request.

On Friday Snook said he won't push the idea if it's unpopular.

"If the group does not want to do it, that's fine," said Snook, who added he just offered the idea for consideration.

To support their argument that the state law could hinder efforts to improve the county's bond rating, Snook and Shoop cited a written analysis by Standard and Poor's, a bond rating agency, which calls the subsidy "a burden."

The Standard and Poor's analysis does not mention the state law.

County officials have said they plan to continue the subsidy regardless of whether the state requirement exists.

Wivell wrote, "In fact, I would be surprised if the raters even knew that the stipulation existed when the Standard & Poor opinion was drafted. ... It is the subsidy itself, not (the law) that is the problem."

Earlier this week Kenneth Gear, who co-wrote the analysis, declined to comment on whether the state law factored into the Standard and Poor's report. The firm does not want comment about political issues, he said.

Wivell attached to his letter to the delegation a bond analysis by Moody's Investors Service, which he noted wasn't mentioned at the joint meeting. That analysis didn't object to the subsidy or the law, Wivell said.

The county has subsidized the Water and Sewer Department by $14.05 million, including more than $2 million this year, since taking over the Washington County Sanitary District in 1994.

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