PLEASANT VALLEY — For nearly six decades, homeowners here have been used to paying a flat monthly fee for their water.
No meter readings to fuss over, no disagreements with the water company.
With approval last month of nearly $500,000 in federal and state grant money, the county will be able to build a new water system to replace the Leister family run collection of three wells that have pumped water to about 140 residents here since 1929.
But along with the new water system, which will be highly automated rather than hand-operated, will be a new set of rules when it comes to paying the water bill.
"We think that the new smaller systems, like Pleasant Valley, should pay what the rest of the county's water customers pay," said County Comptroller Eugene R. Curfman. "It is our feeling that the county has one utility system, and the new water system in Pleasant Valley would be a part of it."
To the 58 homeowners in this four-street community in the rolling hills northwest of Westminster, the county's rate structure won't make much of a difference in the amount ofmoney they pay for water.
What will change is the way it is collected.
For years, Viola Leister has run the small system, charging $7 a month per household regardless of the amount of water used. She said that while most residents pay their bills, either through the mail or in person at her general store, some have not made a payment inyears.
And there's been very little she's been able to do about it.
"You wouldn't believe the amount of money some of these people owe," she said. "But what can I do? I can't turn off their water."
The county can, however.
When the new water system is on-line sometime in mid-1992, the county will take over billing.
Currently, homes hooked up to the Freedom District or Hampstead-area water systems pay a $13.20 fee every three months, plus a usage fee of 25 cents for every 1,000 gallons.
The average yearly bill, county utility officials say, is about $84.80.
Leister's water system costs customers here $84 a year.
The county will install the area's first watermeters and will be able to disconnect service for homeowners who allow their bills to slip too far. And, at the end of the fiscal year, the county can put a lien on the homeowner's property, making it possible for the county to foreclose in order to recoup its money.
The new water system has been discussed for nearly two years. The approval late last month of Maryland Department of Environment and U.S. Community Development Block Grant money will allow the county to go aheadwith the design and construction phases of the $750,000 project.
The water system is expected to be completed by next August, said K. Marlene Conaway, assistant planning director.
"It looks like we can move ahead with the water project now," she said.
The system wasto be part of a $2.2 million water and sewer project, but grants forthe sewage part of the project were rejected this year.
The cost of the water and sewage systems comes to about $37,820 for each household here. But, Conaway said, federal, state and county grant sourceswill pick up most of the tab.
When -- and if -- the sewage plant is built, user fees could total anywhere from $109 to $900 a year. The amount of grant money received for the sewage plant would determinethe annual cost.
"We will continue to seek money for the sewage project," Conaway said.