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Water, sewer rates fail to draw public comment

April 04, 2001

Water, sewer rates fail to draw public comment



By SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

For the first time in five years, the public was silent at a hearing Tuesday on rate changes for Washington County water and sewer customers.

That may be because, for the second straight year, water rates will remain unchanged, according to the Water and Sewer Department's rates proposal. Sewer rates will increase by an average of 2 percent for the year beginning July 1, under the proposal.

The sewer rate increase would raise the average residential sewer customer's bill by about 61 cents a month, Water and Sewer Director Greg Murray said at the hearing.

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The proposal calls for projected water rate increases of 2.5 percent each year from fiscal year 2003, which starts July 1, 2002, through at least 2011.

It also calls for at least a 2 percent annual sewer fund hike each year through at least 2011. Future changes will be decided on an annual basis, however.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop considers the lack of public comment at the hearing a sign that the public is pleased with the proposal to keep rate hikes to a minimum.

"Obviously we are pleased by that," Shoop said.

Murray said he is proposing that water rates remain the same for the second straight year because the county has sufficient cash reserves, and has saved enough in operations, to avoid a water rate hike. Some of the savings are due to cooperative work with the City of Hagerstown, he said.

Water and sewer rate hearings this year and last year stand in contrast to earlier hearings, which drew large audiences, especially in the first few years after the county took over the Washington County Sanitary Commission in December 1995 and inherited its $54 million in debt.

Last year, however, only one citizen spoke, and on Tuesday the public was silent. Water and sewer rates remained unchanged in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, for the first time since the commissioners took over.

In the 2000 fiscal year, the commissioners increased sewer rates by 3 percent and water rates by 2.5 percent.

The County Commissioners took no action on the proposal at the hearing, and have given the public 10 days to file written comments. Citizens may send comments in writing to Gregory Snook, president, Washington County Commissioners, 100 W. Washington St., Hagerstown, Md. 21740.

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