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Williamsport to borrow money to upgrade sewer system

September 14, 2009

WILLIAMSPORT -- Williamsport Town Council members agreed Monday to proceed with two loan packages totaling about $4.4 million to upgrade aging, inefficient sewer systems in town.

Mayor James G. McCleaf II said all of the money might not be used, but the loan packages will require the town to impose sewer rate increases to pay for the work.

One of the loans, which is through the Maryland Department of the Environment, allows the town to borrow up to $900,000 to replace 60 sewer manholes in town and about 1.3 miles of sewer line, council members said.

The loan is for 20 years and has a zero percent interest rate, McCleaf said.

To pay for the loan, the town will impose a $5 monthly sewage rate increase for town residents that will go into effect in February, McCleaf said.

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The work is needed because manholes are cracked and breaking, which allows water to enter sewer lines when it rains, city officials said.

When that happens, the additional water is treated by the county, which results in increased costs of processing for the town, McCleaf said.

Roots have grown into some of the sewer pipes and sewage has backed up in homes, "which isn't pleasant," McCleaf said.

"It almost has to be done," council member Monty Jones said of the sewer work.

McCleaf said imposing the rate increases is difficult, but parts of the town's infrastructure have been "falling apart for years." One woman in the council chambers Monday night made reference to another sewer rate increase the town passed in July.

That increase of 7 percent was passed after Washington County, which processes the town's sewage, increased its processing charge to the town by 5 percent.

The 7 percent rate increase will raise the monthly sewer bill for a family of three to four people by about $5.50 a month, McCleaf has said.

Another loan approved by council members would allow the town to borrow up to $3.5 million through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, McCleaf said.

The money will be used to rehabilitate sewage pump stations that have existed since before 1961, McCleaf said. The problem with the stations is that it is hard to get parts for them, McCleaf said.

McCleaf said a sewer rate increase will be needed to pay back the loan, although it is too early to tell how much the increase might be. McCleaf said he does not believe the town will have to borrow the entire $3.5 million.

Council members also said they will be getting about $1 million in federal stimulus grant money to upgrade water meters in town.

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