Nearly 200 businesses would be asked to pay more for being able to draw thousands of gallons of water at a moment's notice in case of fire under a new county executive proposal.
The so-called "ready-to-serve" fee is part of a major water and sewer rate overhaul proposed by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.
Water and sewer rates for all customers also would increase for the second time in two years under Rehrmann's proposal.
The actual charge for the "ready-to-serve" fee, which will be assessed quarterly, will vary from $2.50 to $1,200, depending on the size of the fire water lines and meters that serve the property, Jewell said. He said 177 commercial customers would be affected.
The new fee is expected to raise $155,000 in new revenue next year, he said.
"We're not charging them for the use of water in a fire, but the fee will cover infrastructure costs for the fire lines, fire hydrants and meters," said James M. Jewell, the county treasurer.
Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson said at a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday that the fee would take a burden off residential customers, who have been covering the costs indirectly.
Residents who buy new townhouses that have sprinkler systems also will be expected to pay the "ready-to-serve" fee, about $2.50 quarterly, said Jewell.
As for water and sewer rate increases, the amount would vary based on the type of service a customer receives and how much water a resident uses.
The county has about 24,000 residential and commercial customers.
Jewell said water rates would increase an average of 25.5 percent under Rehrmann's proposal, generating about $855,000 in new income for the county next year.
Sewer bills would increase between 18 percent and 22 percent, depending on location, generating about $866,000, Jewell said.
For the average residential customer who uses 17,000 gallons of water and produces sewage daily, the rate increase means a new quarterly bill of $73.35, instead of a bill of $58.14.
A typical commercial customer using 119,000 gallons of water quarterly and producing sewage handled by county treatment plants could expect to pay $668.19 per quarter instead of $406.98, plus the pro-rated "ready to serve" charge.
Rehrmann said the new rates are needed because the county's water and sewer service fund is no longer self-supporting. The fund is set up to pay for construction and maintenance of the county's public water and sewer lines, water storage tanks and sewer treatment plants.
Water and sewer fees had not been increased since 1981 before the council raised them 19.2 percent last year, Rehrmann said.
Jewell said that for the past five years, the county has drawn on a surplus balance in the fund.
"That money's gone. We spent the last million this year. And right now there's no recovery of our investment when we make sure water is there in storage tanks to be drawn in case of fire, so we decided to create a ready-to-serve charge. We had to raise the rates," said Jewell.
County administrators say there needs to be about $100 million worth of water and sewer projects to keep pace with the county's residential growth. Among the planned projects are the expansion of the Sod Run sewage treatment plant and a tap into Baltimore's aqueduct, which runs through the county from the Susquehanna River to the city.
The council already has approved new water and sewer system-development fees -- totaling $2,517 -- that will be assessed on a per-hookup basis. Those new fees are being charged in addition to the standard $1,650 connection fee new customers must pay to connect to county water and sewer lines.