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Water and sewer task force may be formed

January 29, 2004|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Studying whether to consolidate water and sewer services in Washington County would be one job of a task force state lawmakers want to form.

Lawmakers agreed Wednesday to seek legislation creating a task force on how the two major utility systems, run independently by Hagerstown and Washington County, will handle future growth.

In addition to growth, drought and serious water quality problems in some pockets of the county have tested the county's system in recent years, said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

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"I think this Delegation should take the leadership to get the parties together and make a move toward this," Munson said.

The idea of a task force was first raised by the county's Water Quality Advisory Commission at a December meeting with local lawmakers. The advisory commission wants the task force to study the idea of consolidating the water and sewer systems run by the city of Hagerstown and Washington County government.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner balks at that idea, saying it will not solve the problem of how to expand utility capacity to keep up with growth.

In addition, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the county is not interested in taking over the city's utilities.

State lawmakers said they want the task force to take a broader look at the future of the system.

Lawmakers want the task force to find the best way to accommodate future growth and make sure taxpayers get the most efficient utility system possible, said Delegation Chairman Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

The task force should look at the pros and cons of creating an independent water and sewer authority or having the city or county take over the entire system, he said.

Also, the task force should consider regionalization, a concept that Baltimore city and Baltimore County have used to develop a service plan.

"All options should be on the table," Shank said.

Lawmakers have not agreed on the wording of legislation to create the task force.

The local Delegation is expected to take up the issue at a meeting next Wednesday.

The county already has a water and sewer master plan that includes the municipalities within its borders, Snook said. But both Snook and Breichner said they think it's a good idea to look at how future utility needs will be met in the county.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he doesn't want to see the city's water and sewer system, which he called superior, harmed by any action of the delegation.

Lawmakers also decided to pursue legislation clarifying the county's authority to charge an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance fee.

The county recently began charging fees to cover the cost of schools and roads in new developments. The school fee is about $7,200 and the road fee varies, depending on the number of homes and the cost of needed road work, Snook said.

While the county has had the authority to charge an APFO fee for nearly 20 years, officials asked for legislation this year to ward off future court challenges, he said.

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