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Sept. 30 deadline for full water and sewer waivers in Funkstown

June 29, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

FUNKSTOWN, Md — Income-eligible Funkstown water and sewer customers have until Sept. 30 to file for waivers for the full annual $60 Chesapeake Bay Restoration fee, known as the state flush tax, after the town council recently approved a financial hardship exemption plan for the new fiscal year, Town Clerk/Treasurer Brenda Haynes said.

Funkstown was the last governmental sewer billing authority in Washington County to get a hardship exemption plan approved by the state, according to information provided by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

State legislation that passed in 2012 made financial hardship exemption plans a requirement, said Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the state environment department.

Residential Funkstown water and sewer customers still can file for a partial waiver after Sept. 30, but if they want to be exempt from the full $60, they must file a waiver before Sept. 30 so the exemption can take effect before the first quarterly water and sewer bill is issued for the new fiscal year, Haynes said. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Water and sewer customers who own their own home are billed quarterly and will receive a notice of the new exemption plan with the July bills, Haynes said. The quarterly fee is $15, based on the $5 monthly state flush tax, Haynes said.

Apartment tenants who are responsible for paying the bay restoration fee, and are financially eligible, also may apply for the waiver, she said.

Haynes said waiver forms can be picked up at Funkstown Town Hall, which is at 30 E. Baltimore St.

The waiver is only good for the 2013-14 fiscal year, but customers can reapply for the exemption every year, Haynes said.

The state established the flush tax in 2004 to generate money to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

The fee initially was $2.50 per month for each household served by a wastewater treatment plant, or $30 per year.

During the 2012 General Assembly session, state lawmakers passed a bill that raised the flush tax to $5 per month, or $60 per year.

The 2012 legislation also requires Bay Restoration Fund billing authorities — such as municipalities and counties — to develop a financial hardship waiver plan for low-income residents if they didn’t already have such a plan in place, Apperson said.

The state approved hardship exemption plans for Boonsboro and Clear Spring earlier this spring, while Hancock’s plan was approved in September 2012, Apperson said.

Washington County, Hagerstown, Smithsburg and Williamsport had plans approved before the 2012 legislation, Apperson said.

Keedysville and Sharpsburg do not bill sewage customers because those areas are covered by the county’s sewer system, officials with the towns said.

Sewer customers who want to find out if they qualify for the flush tax waiver may contact their local sewer billing authority.

The Community Action Council administers the Chesapeake Bay Restoration fee waiver program for county sewer customers, according to an email from James Jenkins, a county spokesman.

As with Funkstown, county customers must reapply for the waiver each year, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said 242 county sewer customers will receive the waiver for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Hagerstown spokeswoman Erin Wolfe said 203 Hagerstown customers received the waiver, according to an email. Wolfe said the city’s hardship program began in May 2006.

While the new legislation took effect July 1, 2012, it did not include a specific deadline for billing authorities to enact the hardship exemption plan, nor are there penalties listed for not doing so, Apperson said.

But, Apperson said, any delay in doing so is a delay in providing that opportunity to low-income households in the area.

Under Funkstown’s hardship plan, customers must meet two of five qualifying factors. The qualifying factors are the household is receiving an energy assistance subsidy from the Department of Social Services; is receiving public assistance benefits such as Supplemental Security Income or food stamps; is receiving veterans or Social Security disability benefits; has received the Homeowner’s Property Tax Credit for the same fiscal year; or meets household income criteria.

The household income criteria for a family of four is a monthly income of less than $3,361.45, according to the town’s exemption application.

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