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County water and sewer rates, landfill fees and plan-review costs going up

April 19, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

County water and sewer rates, landfill fees and plan-review costs will all increase July 1, under hikes approved Tuesday by the Washington County Board of County Commissioners.

The water and sewer rate increases were approved by a 4-0 vote, while the landfill fee increases and new plan-review fees were each approved 3-1, with Commissioner William B. McKinley opposed.

Commissioner John F. Barr was absent for all three votes.

Under the newly approved rates, the typical residential customer on county water will see a $4 increase in their quarterly water bill, while the typical residential customer on county sewer will see a $5 increase in their quarterly sewer bill, based on use of 12,000 gallons per quarter.

Commercial water and sewer rates and wholesale sewer rates will also increase.

Julie Pippel, director of the Division of Environmental Management, has said the rate increases, designed to raise revenue by 4 percent, are necessary to fund the county Department of Water Quality's long-range financial plans.

Landfill permit fees for residential drop-off will increase from $125 to $130 per year, although the senior citizen rate will remain the same at $95.

Rates for bringing municipal solid waste, yard debris, tires and "high volume, low weight" material to the landfill will all increase, as will prices to buy mulch and compost from the landfill.

The landfill rate increases — projected to bring in about $200,000 in additional revenue per year — will help bring solid-waste revenue closer to matching expenses, said Clifford J. Engle, deputy director of environmental management.

The new plan review fees are necessary to help cover the cost of additional reviews required by the state, said Jennifer Smith, the county Director of Plan Review and Permitting.

The seven new plan-review fees range from a $15 per-plan technology fee, to a $500 fee for a stormwater-management "as-built" plan review.

They are expected to bring in about $77,000 in additional revenue per year.



'When does it end?'

The commissioners' votes followed public hearings on the proposed increases and new fees. No citizens spoke at the hearings on landfill fees or plan review costs, and Bryan Gabriel of Sharpsburg was the only citizen to speak at the water and sewer rate hearing.

Gabriel, who is Sharpsburg's vice mayor, said he had heard from previous commissioners that rates would go down once more people were hooked up to the water and sewer system, but despite booming growth last decade, rates have only increased.

"I hear the same thing from my constituents: 'When does it end?'" Gabriel said.

Commissioners President Terry Baker and Commissioner Jeffrey A. Cline both said they shared Gabriel's sentiment, but felt the increases were unavoidable.

In voting against the landfill and plan-review fee increases, McKinley said he saw the increases as similar to an additional tax.

"One of the comments you commonly hear is that to impose new permit fees is raising taxes, and most of us ran on the fact that we would not raise taxes," McKinley said.

The other commissioners also expressed reluctance to approve the hikes, but did so after county staff members described the alternatives.

Without the new plan-review fees, project review would come out of general taxpayer funds, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

Without increasing landfill fees, the county would have to use funds currently set aside for eventual landfill closure costs, forcing the county to borrow for that expense later, county Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray said.

"I don't want to leave my children a debt that I could have paid for, saved for today," Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said before making a motion to approve the landfill fee increases.

Barr said at the start of Tuesday's meeting that he would be leaving at 10 a.m. to attend a "Go Green Expo," where he had been asked to moderate a seminar. The expo ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Barr did not return for the rate and fee agenda items, which began at 3 p.m.

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How They Voted

Water and sewer rate increases:

Terry L. Baker, yes

Ruth Anne Callaham, yes

Jeffrey A. Cline, yes

William B. McKinley, yes



Landfill fee increases:

Terry L. Baker, yes

Ruth Anne Callaham, yes

Jeffrey A. Cline, yes

William B. McKinley, no



New plan review fees:

Terry L. Baker, yes

Ruth Anne Callaham, yes

Jeffrey A. Cline, yes

William B. McKinley, no

Commissioner John F. Barr was absent for all three votes.


Rate hikes approved

The Washington County Board of Commissioners has approved the following rate and fee hikes:

Typical residential county water bill (using 12,000 gallons per quarter)

  • Current — $137 per quarter
  • Starting July 1 — $141 per quarter
  • Increase — $4 (3 percent)


Typical residential county sewer bill (using 12,000 gallons per quarter)

  • Current — $126 per quarter
  • Starting July 1 — $131 per quarter
  • Increase — $5 (4 percent)


Landfill permit for residential drop-off

  • Current — $125 per year
  • Starting July 1 — $130 per year
  • Increase — $5 (4 percent)


Minimum landfill scale charge for inbound material

  • Current — $8
  • Starting July 1 — $10
  • Increase — $2 (25 percent)


Price to buy mulch

  • Current — $25 per ton
  • Starting July 1 — $30 per ton
  • Increase — $5 (20 percent)


Price to buy compost

  • Current — $12 per ton
  • Starting July 1 — $20 per ton
  • Increase — $8 (67 percent)
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