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Proposed water, sewer rate hikes raise concerns

May 04, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County's proposed water and sewer rate increases only amount to a few extra dollars a month, but for seniors and others on fixed incomes, even a small increase can be a burden, some area residents said.

"There's a lot of low-income people in this area," said David Mills Sr., 63, who receives a military pension. "Seems like there's always something increasing. It's hard to keep up."

A public hearing on the proposed water and sewer rate changes is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday in room 226 of the County Administration Building at 100 W. Washington St.

Under the proposed changes, the average residential customer would pay about 4 percent more for county water, or about $5.20 more per quarter, and about 5 percent more for county sewer, or about $5.80 more per quarter.

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The proposed increases are part of an ongoing plan to pay down utility fund debt and make the water and sewer funds self-sufficient, Environmental Management Director Julie Pippel said. That plan calls for the county to increase water and sewer fund revenue 4 percent each year for the next 10 years, Pippel said.

For some county residents, a one-time increase in water and sewer rates would be manageable, but the prospect of additional increases each year is troubling.

"I don't like the idea," said Glen Kline, 71, of Halfway. "Not for the next 10 years. Maybe for every third year."

Another Halfway resident, Judy Stull, said the frustrating thing about rate increases is that she can't necessarily counter them by using less water because the county charges a base rate for the first 6,000 gallons used.

"What do you do?" Stull said. "You can't sell your house."

Washington County has about 1,300 water accounts and about 10,000 sewer accounts, Pippel said. In addition to serving much of the unincorporated area of the county, the county also provides water and sewer to the town of Sharpsburg and sewer to Smithsburg, Williamsport and Keedysville, she said. Many areas just outside Hagerstown or other towns get city or town water, but county sewer, she said.

The 4 percent revenue increases projected for the next 10 years are not outside the ballpark of what has been projected previously, county Budget and Finance Director Debra Murray said.

The county has been projecting the need for 3 percent to 4 percent revenue increases each year on its 10-year projections since 2001 for the water fund and since 2004 for the sewer fund, Murray said.

This fiscal year, bills for the average residential user went up about 3.7 percent for water and about 3.6 percent for sewer over the previous year.

The proposed increases for next fiscal year are slightly higher because the county is also paying for the addition of enhanced nutrient-removal technology, which is required by the state, Pippel said.

The new rates would go into effect July 1, with customers first seeing the increased rates in the fall on their bills for the July-through-September period.




What: Public hearing on Washington County's proposed water and sewer rate changes

When: 11 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Room 226 of the County Administration Building at 100 W. Washington St., Hagerstown

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