Families Object To Water Usage Surcharge

March 24, 1991|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Staff writer

ELDERSBURG — By installing low-flow shower heads and a water-efficient toilet, and by refraining from watering lawns and washing cars, Margaret Korzieis satisfied that her family is doing its share to conserve water.

"I don't live my life to have a green lawn," said Korzie, a HickoryLane resident and mother of three.

So Korzie was "shocked" when she realized she may face a fine under a new county water-allocation program that limits water use.

Any household on county water that uses more than 32,937 gallons per quarter pays a surcharge of 30 percent of its water bill, according to the legislation. The measure was passed by the County Commissioners last September.

Despite her family's water-conservation measures, Korzie projects its water usage will surpass the limit and be subject to the surcharge.

"I'm doing a lot of things to save (water), but when they came up with this, I wanted to throw my hands up in the airand say, 'Why am I bothering?' " she said.

Korzie isn't the only South Carroll resident who says the county's allocation program is all wet.

Several of her neighbors have complained to the commissioners and county administrators that the quarterly limit doesn't consider family size and unfairly discriminates against large households.

"The base amount of water should be determined by the number of occupants of the residence, not by the size of the pipe running to the house," Eldersburg resident Jacquelyn Nolf wrote in a recent letter to the commissioners. "What you have designed is a family tax."

Last week, the commissioners said they would take another look at the program.

What further irks some residents is that people who use 50 percent less than the quarterly limit get a water bill reduction. Some residents say that a single person living alone could be re

wardedfor doing little in the name of water conservation.

"They're making the single guy in his first apartment equal to the family of five or six," said Nolf, an Oak Hill Drive resident and mother of two. "I just think there's a better way to do it."

The purpose of the measure, as stated in the legislation, is to promote water conservation and penalize water waste among residents in the Hampstead and Freedom areas, the only locations where the county provides water and sewer.

For households served by a five-eighths-inch water pipe --the sizeused by the typical home -- the limit is 27,488 gallons per quarter,or 300.8 gallons a day. The surcharge -- 30 percent of the water bill -- kicks in when water use reaches 20 percent over that amount, or 32,937 gallons a quarter.

A household that uses 41,172 to 54,621 gallons a quarter will see a surcharge that is 75 percent of its waterbill, according to the measure. Residents using between two and three times the limit face a doubled water bill.

"If you're going to use an extensive amount of water, you're going to have to pay to use it," said Eugene C. Curfman, director of the county Finance Department, which handles Carroll's water and sewer billing.

Residents have yet to receive their first water bill since the allocation was enacted, but did receive notice of the program in February, after it had already begun.

With the definition of the modern family in flux, thequarterly limit is reasonable, Curfman said.

"A family of seven is not the typical-sized family any more," he said. "I understand their plight,but you can't design something that addresses every scenario."

The residents disagree, and some suggested that household size should be factored into the water limit.

During meetings with staff members Monday, the commissioners discussed the residents' complaints about the water rates and said they will review how households areaffected by the program.

Most likely, the surcharge won't drive any families to the poor house. With county water rates at 25 cents per 1,000 gallons, the extra charge typically would amount to several dollars on the water bill of an offending household, residents concede.

Yet several said they are concerned less by the prospective finethan by the principle they see being applied.

"It's the idea of being penalized," said Michelle Lapps, an Eldersburg resident and mother of three. "All the restrictions have to affect everybody. They don't. That's the point. It isn't fair."

Said Korzie, "The whole point is that it's a few dollars a year from our budget that amounts to us paying a fine. It's very upsetting to me."

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