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Williamsport officials prefer to scale down sewer repairs to minimize rate hikes

October 14, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

WILLIAMSPORT -- Williamsport officials said Monday they intend to complete only the most urgent and cost-effective repairs to the town's sewer system to avoid unnecessary debt and minimize rate increases.

The scaled-down project could be completed by borrowing about $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which would require the town to raise water and sewer bills by only about $3 a month, Mayor James G. McCleaf II said. The USDA offered the town a loan of as much as $3.6 million for the sewer repair project.

"I don't want to borrow all that money if it's not worth it," McCleaf said.

A $1 million loan would cover upgrades to the town's four aging pump stations, which would pose liability issues for the town if not addressed, McCleaf said.

Beyond that, any additional money would go toward repairing cracks, leaks and other problems that allow stormwater and groundwater into the sewer system and drive up treatment costs.

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An analysis by Washington County Environmental Management officials revealed the savings from that work would not be worth the cost, McCleaf said. If the town elected to borrow the full $3.6 million, it would have to pay back $150,000 per year for 40 years, but would save only $60,000 a year in treatment costs.

The decision to borrow less than the full $3.6 million offered would mean forfeiting a $707,000 grant offered as part of the USDA package.

The town will be able to address some of its most pressing stormwater and groundwater inflow and infiltration issues with a $400,000 grant already awarded by the Maryland Department of the Environment's Bay Restoration Fund, McCleaf said. The town is preparing to put that portion of the project out for bid, he said.

Assistant Mayor Monty R. Jones said he thought scaling back the project was necessary to avoid drastic rate increases in tough economic times. Residents have spoken out against potential rate increases since the town mistakenly announced sewer bills could increase by as much as $42 a month. USDA officials later clarified that $42 a month is the total basic users might have to pay each month if the town borrowed the full amount offered, increasing bills by about $7 a month.

McCleaf said he thought $3 a month would be a much more manageable increase.

"I don't want to pass on any more than we absolutely have to," he said.

Council members plan to introduce a loan resolution at their November meeting.

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