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County seeks full PSC ruling on sewer rates

January 31, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners were disappointed by a decision by a representative of a state regulatory agency examining the City of Hagerstown's water and sewer rates at the request of the Washington County government, Commissioner William J. Wivell said Wednesday.

The city's position is that the Maryland Public Service Commission does not have the authority and jurisdiction over the sewer rates the city charges customers who live outside the city in certain areas because of a contract between the two entities.

The city's position is that it is a contractual issue that belongs in courts.

Washington County disagrees and asked the PSC to evaluate the reasonableness of the water and sewer rates the county is charging all non-city customers.

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The PSC hearing examiner ruled that the city was partially right: The PSC does not have jurisdiction over sewer rates for non-city customers living in joint service areas.

Joint service areas are those in which the county owns and operates the sewer collection system and the city provides additional collection and treatment.

But the PSC ruled that it does have authority over the rates of the non-city sewer customers who don't live in the joint service areas.

The Washington County Commissioners decided Tuesday to ask the full PSC, instead of just its hearing examiner, to rule on the city's argument because the county believes the hearing examiner's decision was inaccurate and the PSC has jurisdiction over all of the rates.

The city was pleased with the decision, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

The city did not contest the jurisdiction of non-city water and sewer customers, he said. The city says its rates are fair.

The county also asked the regulatory agency to look at a city practice of having some departments make a payment to the city general fund, Wivell said. This payment, called a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT), is intended to represent the amount those departments would pay to the city if they were private companies.

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