Budget Requests Fee Hikes

Plan Seeks Rise In Water, Sewer Rates

April 05, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

County property taxes won't go up in July, but water and sewer billsand fees to obtain everything from county building permits to business licenses might.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's $188.6 million operating budget proposal contains neither frills nor employee raises, but it does call for increasing many fees to raise cash.

The proposal for fiscal year 1993, which begins July 1, leaves unchanged the county's property tax rate: $2.73 per $100 of assessed value, and $2.43 for residents who live within the three municipalities.

But Rehrmann's general operating budget counts on new infusions of cash from higher permit and license fees and a sharp rise in waterand sewer fees she is proposing.

Those higher fees have not been approved by the council and may face opposition from its members.

Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson said he's concerned that Rehrmann"built the budget on the presumption that we'd pass the fee bill."

"We've been on notice that the water and sewer budget is in trouble, but she's included in her budget the $700,000 the other higher feeswould generate."

Rehrmann defended the need for raising water andsewer fees for a second consecutive year. The fees had not been increased since 1981, she said, before the council raised them 19.2 percent last year.

"One of the problems we inherited was a water and sewer operating budget that was close to being in the red, even though it's designated as a self-supporting fund," said Rehrmann. She added that the water and sewer operating budget has made up for potential losses by using retained earnings.

Jackie Ludwig, a sanitary engineer in the county's water and sewer division, said Rehrmann has asked the council to approve an average 25.5 percent increase in water rates. The actual increase would be determined by water usage. Sewer rates would increase about 18.3 percent, she said.

That means the average homeowner, who uses about 16,000 gallons of water every three months, would pay about $13.50 more on each quarterly bill, or an average of $68.22 quarterly.

The water rate increase would generate about $854,000 in new revenue; the sewer rate increase would generate about $865,900 in new money, said James M. Jewell, the county treasurer.

Meanwhile the higher licensing and permit fees Rehrmann has proposed would generate about $700,000 in new income, Jewell said.

That$700,000 is needed because the county is expecting a cut in state aid, and other revenue sources will be off, too.

For example, John Scotten, the county's deputy treasurer, said the county is no longer seeing large increases in revenue from property taxes -- the county's major money source. Property tax revenues are expected to increase from $71.9 million this year to $76.8 million next year.

He said another big concern is that the county's second-largest money source, income taxes, is expected to grow by only 1.5 percent, to an estimated $51.9 million.

"Income tax had been growing at 7, 8 or 9 percent ayear, but that kind of growth has stopped," Scotten said.

The sluggish tax revenue is one reason Rehrmann proposes increasing the portion of the operating budget which will run all county departments -- except water and sewer, highways and solid waste management -- by just 1.2 percent. That's up to $142.8 million from $140.1 million in fiscal 1992.

The other portion of the operating budget consists of $13.9 million for highway services, $10.9 million for the water and sewer division, and $7.3 million for the solid waste division.

The executive said she has told county government employees to prepare for difficult financial times ahead and explained why there is no money for raises for county employees or teachers and other school workers.

Larry Klimovitz, director of administration, said that it would cost about $2.5 million to provide step -- or automatic -- increments, to county employees, and about $1.5 million for each 1 percent of a cost of living increase.

Klimovitz said that the Board of Educationasked for, but was denied, a $5 million package that would have covered two step increases due some employees and a 3 percent across-the-board, cost-of-living raise for school workers.

"We've met with the employee groups, and I told them that if the economy turns around in January, we'll try to do something for them then," said Rehrmann. "But it's my priority to keep people working."

Only five departments received major increases this year: the Board of Education, the Sheriff's Office, the county Health Department, Emergency Services and the Harford County library system.

Of those, the school board wouldreceive the largest share: a $2.7 million increase to hire teachers for two new schools scheduled to open next fall. That increase would bring the county's share of the board's budget to $76.3 million, up from $73.6 million this year. The rest of board's money comes from state and federal sources.

The board had asked for $81.2 million fromthe county.

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