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Hagerstown residents speak against water and sewer hikes

May 07, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday debated whether to increase water and sewer rates this year to help offset mounting operating costs in the City Utilities Department.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he didn't want to raise taxes, but it would be wiser to increase them a little now rather than a lot later.

"I'm afraid of the out years ... It might come back to bite us," Metzner said.

The council held a work session Tuesday afternoon to discuss the issue and hosted a public hearing later that night to get feedback from residents.

At issue was whether to increase the sewer and water rates or the sewer rates only at the following costs to taxpayers:

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· City customers: $4.04 per quarter for water and sewer, or $3.28 for sewer.

· Customers living outside the city: $8.54 per quarter for water and sewer, or $7 for sewer.

· Customers who live in the joint service area: $7.68 per quarter for water and sewer, or $6.14 for sewer.

All rates are based on 13,000 gallons of water usage per quarter.

No one at the public hearing spoke for the tax increase, however, Oak Hill Avenue resident Nancy Allen and four other residents said they opposed the proposal.

Allen, who is a Realtor, said the existing tax rate already makes it difficult to sell houses in Hagerstown.

"(Tax) increases have gone over the top ... If you keep raising the taxes you're going to limit the (benefits) for living in the city," Allen said.

City Utilities Director Michael Spiker said the increases are needed to help cover operating costs. Electric expenses at the R.C. Willson Water Treatment Plant, for example, have increased from $36,000 per month a few years ago to $80,000 per month today, he said.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said a big part of the problem is that city residents are taxed by the county as well, yet receive few services in return.

Nigh and other members of the council urged the residents who were at the hearing to attend the Washington County Commissioners' budget discussions to inquire about being double taxed.

Any rate increases approved by the council would take effect July 1.

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