ELDERSBURG — They were playing a different kind of sport in the gym at EldersburgElementary last night, as an angry team of more than 75 homeowners hurled verbal basketballs at county finance officials.
County Comptroller Eugene Curfman was to answer questions about the county's proposed increase in water and sewer charges for 5,100 Carroll homeownersand businesses, and members of the audience shouted and demanded an explanation.
"Even with general taxes, we never, ever get to the cause of the problem," said South Carroll homeowner Michael Roy. "We are always told what the Band-Aid is."
While the county commissioners won't officially adopt new water and sewer rates for customers here and in Hampstead until after two public hearings this month, the amount of thatincrease is projected to be substantial.
For the Freedom District's 3,640 homes and businesses, their combined yearly water and sewer bills will more than double, from $238 now to about $540 under the proposed rates.
Broken down, sewer rates in both areas will jump from an annual average of $148 to $274 for a typical use. Water rates inFreedom -- Hampstead provides its own water -- will increase from anannual average of $90 to more than $205.
The reasons Curfman gavelast night -- as well as during a sparsely attended hearing in Hampstead March 27 -- for the sudden increase in rates had to do with simple business.
For most of the system's 20-year history, it has beenoperating at a loss that was covered by a hookup charge that is supposed to go to sewage plant construction.
Indeed, the last rate increase was in 1984, and that sizable increase lasted until only 1986, when the commissioners dropped rates to a level slightly higher than they were before 1984.
The new rates would allow the system to operate at a break-even level without having to use money collected in hookup fees.
The projection on hookup fees is a mixed bag. In Hampstead, they are slated to drop by more than 10 percent, from $1,275 per new home to $1,145.
In the Freedom area, however, the hookup charge for sewage service will jump 65 percent, from $3,098 to $5,112. Water hookup fees there would increase three-fold from $710 to $2,169.
That the commissioners have allowed the system to operate this way was unbelievable to most in the audience.
"I sort of feel that this is another one of those deals in which we're going to get an increase anyway," said Carolyn Fairbank, president of the Carroll Highlands Community Association.
Whether or not the commissioners accept a phased-in rate increase, Curfman said it is necessary. Since 1982, the system has run annual deficits, covered by hookup fee money. Cumulatively, the deficits adds up to more than $5 million.
The publichearings -- at which the commissioners' attendance is expected -- are scheduled for April 22 at North Carroll Middle in Greenmount and April 29 at Eldersburg Elementary.