In Tom Gill's eyes, the county and state are throwing their money down the sewer in Galesville.
Gill, president of the Rose Haven Civic Association, said Rose Haven and nearby Holland Point, two of Anne Arundel's southernmost communities, desperately want public sewers but may not be able to afford them. Why, he wonders, are county and state officials seemingly determined to put public sewers in Galesville when that community isn't even sure it wants them?
The county Utilities and Health departments have tried enticing Galesville residents to accept a $5.3 million sewer system. As bait, county officials have extended a one-time chance at a $2.5 million state-administered grant to offset the cost.
Galesville residents, many of whom have been outspoken opponents of sewerage, have until Oct.15 to formally request public sewers -- a step Rose Haven and Holland Point took more than a year ago. The state Environment and county Utilities departments have scheduled a public hearing for 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Galesville community center.
Ordinarily, the public hearing would have come after the petition process. But officials made an exception because the grant expires Oct. 15, after which the money reverts to the state.
"It's disturbs us that we have already petitioned to join the county system and they haven't," Gill said. "Yet the county is asking them to take the money. They aren't forcing them to take it, but they are bending over to help them."
Under the county charter, communities must request sewer service through a formal petition process.
Rose Haven residents began clamoring for public sewer as stricter environmental laws, passed in the 1980s, made their privately owned treatment plant more expensive to operate. As the developer attempted to upgrade the plant, he raised utility fees from $125 in 1985 to $750 this year.
Holland Point, on the Anne Arundel-Calvert county line, has had problems with failing septic systems.
County officials have estimated that a new, county-owned sewage treatment plant will cost each homeowner a one-time, $12,000 hookup fee plus annual fees of more than $1,200. By contrast, if Galesville residents accept public sewers, they would pay a $3,330 hookup fee.
"We're not an affluent community," Gill said. "Twenty-five percent of ourresidents are retired on fixed incomes. The houses here aren't big, so we have a lot of young people starting out.
"Our big hope is Galesville will vote not to join the county system," Gill said. "Then, maybe we'll get their funds."
But the county has no control over who receives the grant money. If Galesville rejects public sewers, themoney will revert to the state, county Health Department spokeswomanEvelyn Stein said. State officials have promised to give the money to the next active project on their priority list, she said. That list, she said, does not include Rose Haven and Holland Point.
Jim Hurley, a finance officer for the Utilities Department, said the county has considered several options in addition to building a new plant. One alternative is to pipe waste water to the Chesapeake Beach treatment plant across the Calvert County line. County officials and residents will meet Oct. 26 and Nov. 13 to discuss those options, he said.
Grant money was set aside for Galesville, which has turned down public sewer several times before, more than a decade ago.
The countysought the permission of Galesville residents this summer to link their South County community to a county treatment plant in Shady Side.The Health Department said a sewer system is necessary because many of Galesville's private septic systems are failing and pose a threat to public health.
However, many Galesville residents worry that a connection to public sewers will spark an explosion of residential growth that will forever destroy their small-town way of life. Others fear the cost will force low- and fixed-income residents to abandon their homes.
The county has worked closely with Galesville residentsto answer their concerns about growth and to find them additional financial aid.
"The county seems anxious to work with us to control growth," said Bill Woodfield, president of the West River Community Association. "I think the county has given everybody down here more than enough information whether they vote for or against the sewer. As far as the association goes, it's up to the individuals now."
Utilities spokeswoman Jody Vollmar said the county has received 95 responses from Galesville residents -- 68 for the public sewer, 20 against and seven ruled invalid. The county must receive 113 favorable responses, or a simple majority of property owners, to go forward, she said.