Water and sewer rates for county utility customers should be raised to reduce an operating deficit and make the systems more self-sufficient, say the county commissioners.
"It's more than an impression. It's a conviction," said Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy about raising the rates for residents and businesses in the Hampstead and Freedom District service areas.
"We've started to catch the devil for (considering raising rates). But we should be regarded by our willingness to bite the bullet," Lippy said.
The commissioners voted unanimously Monday to implement"interim" fees for the services while county officials and a South Carroll business association conduct an analysis of the rate structurefor adoption next year.
The commissioners must have a public hearing, anticipated for January, to enact higher rates.
The county operates sewage treatment systems in Hampstead and the Freedom District, which includes Sykesville and Eldersburg, for about 6,000 users. Proposed changes in county water rates don't apply to users served by Hampstead.
County Comptroller Eugene C. Curfman told the commissioners that the county systems are operating at an $850,000 deficit. Current rates are not sufficient to pay for operating, upgrading and expanding the systems, said Curfman. The rates have not been raised since 1984.
The county charges $13.21 quarterly for water and 25 centsper 1,000 gallons. Residences use an average of about 27,000 gallonsquarterly. The average quarterly bill is about $20.
Sewer rates are $19.17 quarterly, with $1 charged per 1,000 gallons treated. The average quarterly sewer bill is about $44.
Curfman said he has not presented the commissioners with specific recommendations for interimrates. But the board will probably go along with proposed increases,say Lippy and Commissioner President Donald I. Dell.
"It's been adeficit that's been tucked away under the rug for quite some time," said Lippy. "The bottom line is that a service, like any business, must pay for itself. The longer we put it off, the more painful it willbe when we finally face reality."
Dell said he objects to funneling money from the county's general operating budget to help pay for the systems and plug the deficit. Costs should be borne by system users, not all taxpayers, he said.
"We have a drastic need to get the fees up to where the systems support themselves," he said.
Costs for operating expenses, maintenance, equipment replacements and systemexpansions have increased while rates have remained steady in recentyears.
To maintain lower rates, previous Boards of Commissioners have applied proceeds from connection charges -- one-time costs to pay for upgrades and expansions -- toward system expenses.
But revenue from those charges dropped considerably after a moratorium on sewer hookups was imposed in the Freedom District three years ago.
The$15 million project to upgrade equipment and double the capacity of the Freedom District sewage-treatment plant is in its final stages.