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Water rate hike reprieve possible

November 16, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

The three Washington County municipalities that buy water from Hagerstown might get three-month reprieves from higher rates.

City Finance Director Al Martin said Tuesday that rate increases might be delayed while agreements are worked out. At a City Council meeting, he called it "good customer service."

Last month, the Hagerstown City Council approved a new water and sewer rate structure that benefits low-end users the most and raises costs for those who use more.

Also, out-of-district water users will shoulder an increased share of the burden than in-district users.

The higher prices are scheduled to take effect on bills mailed to customers in December.

The new structure also called for increases in water the city sells to Smithsburg, Williamsport and Funkstown, although those rates weren't formally approved last month. The City Council is expected to vote on them next week.

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Martin said Smithsburg's water customers would pay 12.6 percent more, while users in Funkstown can expect increases of about 7 percent.

Williamsport didn't provide the city enough information for a projection. However, on Monday, Mayor James G. McCleaf II estimated the increase at just less than 5 percent.

Also Monday, the Funkstown Town Council voted unanimously to pass along the full 7 percent increase to its customers. For customers billed quarterly, the increase will first show up on the April bill, according to Town Clerk Brenda Haynes.

Williamsport has scheduled a public hearing for Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m. to consider passing along its 5 percent increase.

Smithsburg, however, is trying to diffuse the rising costs.

Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said Tuesday the town might use some of its surplus account to help cover and phase in the increase, a strategy the town has used before.

"We as a town can't absorb (the higher cost)," Williamsport Councilman Earle R. Pereschuk Sr. said Monday, agreeing that the town needs to pass the increase to customers.

At one point during Monday's Williamsport Town Council meeting - during an unrelated discussion about municipalities sharing services and equipment to save money - Councilman Nelson F. Deal took a shot at the city.

"They can share that water that they're going to rip us off on," he said.

The Williamsport Town Council voted unanimously Monday to bill customers quarterly instead of monthly and to send bills to property owners instead of tenants.

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