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Washington County Commissioners delay vote on water and sewer rate hikes

April 09, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

After hearing opposition from several people, including councilmen from two of the county’s towns, the Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday decided to postpone a decision on proposed water and sewer rate increases for the coming fiscal year.

“I know it’s only a couple of dollars, but a couple of dollars here and a couple of dollars there” can add up to a lot of money, Sharpsburg Town Councilman Russ Weaver told the commissioners.

Williamsport Town Councilman Bill Green told the commissioners that residents “can’t afford to swallow” the increases.

Under the proposals, the quarterly residential full service rate for the first 6,000 gallons used would increase by $2.55 for sewer — from $100.70 to $103.25 — and by $1.45 for water — from $91.65 to $93.10.

Residential usage after the first 6,000 gallons would be increased as well, by 24 cents for sewer — from $5.71 to $5.95 per 1,000 gallons — and 26 cents for water — from $9.06 to $9.32 per 1,000 gallons.

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Increases for commercial services vary in amount, with the largest quarterly hike coming to Commercial I Full Service customers who would be charged an additional $2.55 for sewer — from $101.70 to $104.25 — and $1.45 for water — from $91.65 to $93.10.

After the first 6,000 gallons, Commercial I Full Service accounts would be charged an additional 20 cents for sewer — from $6.60 to $6.80 — and 23 cents for water — from $9.27 to $9.50 — for every 1,000 gallons used.

The commissioners likely will revisit the proposed rate increases in the next couple of weeks, Commissioner William B. McKinley said.

If approved at a later date, the increases would go into effect July 1.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said the county uses a financial model to monitor required rate increases, taking into account costs of delivering service and capital improvement plans as well as state-mandated procedures recently passed down for nutrient removal to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Murray said the state had recommended increases of 9 percent to 11 percent annually to help fund improvements for the bay initiative, on top of a 23-percent hike in the first year.

Upgrades to utilities for nutrient removal alone gets into the “10s of millions of dollars,” Murray said, noting that about 22 to 25 surrounding jurisdictions also are looking at rate increases to address the issue.

Through consolidation of facilities, reduction of personnel and combining operations, the county has been able to keep its yearly increases to around 2 percent to 4 percent, Murray said.

“We’ve done a lot of things to keep that rate at what you see,” he said.

Charles Delzer, a resident of Cascade, said the people in his community have had a hard time making ends meet since rates were increased more than a decade ago. He asked the commissioners to reconsider the proposed rate increase, saying he pays $325 per quarter just for his sewer and water service alone.

“People in the community of Cascade, Pen Mar area ... electric has gone up. Now, I hear the sewer is going up,” Delzer said. “Me, personally, I’ve been overpaying in my water for 20-some years because of a clerical error.”

Murray said that some customer classes historically have been overpaying for their service while others in different classes have been underpaying, which is another element the county is trying to fix with its annual adjustments in rates. 

“Residential customers shouldn’t be paying for service for commercial customers,” he said.

In light of the concerns, the commissioners decided to delay a vote on the matter to further discuss the speakers’ concerns.

“I suggested that we put off making a motion, that we put off raising the sewer and water rates, because we had these speakers here today, and we really have ... time to consider what they’re saying,” McKinley said. “For us to go ahead with this vote today, to me, would have said we’re not thinking about what you’re saying.”

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham suggested trying to create a more open dialogue with the county’s towns to keep their best interests in mind when considering future rate increases.

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