The county commissioners approved water and sewer rate increases yesterday that will double annual utility fees for Freedom District customers.
The commissioners also approved a substantial sewer rate increase for Hampstead customers.
To soften the blow on residents, the commissioners will phase in the increases over three years for the county-operated Freedom District water and sewer systems and the Hampstead sewage treatment plant. Hampstead operates a separate water system for town residents.
Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Elmer C. Lippy voted for the ordinance. Commissioner Julia W. Gouge abstained.
The commissioners have discussed a revised rate structure for nearly a year, but expressed concerns about the proposal yesterday. South Carroll and Hampstead residents opposed the rates at public hearings.
"We'll just have to try it for a while," said Mr. Dell. "If we see in a year or a year and a half it's not working, we'll try again."
The system has been operating with a deficit for years, county officials say, because money for construction has been redirected to finance daily operations and subsidize artificially low rates. Now the county's fund for financing improvements to the systems -- generated through new connections -- is nearly depleted, they say.
Rates were last raised in 1984, and lowered in 1986.
Mr. Lippy said last month that action wouldn't be taken on the rates until an internal audit of the systems was completed.
He changed his mind.
"I was convinced that time was of the essence and that whatever efficiency changes we could make wouldn't really affect the rate structure," he said. "I didn't want to lose any additional revenue. We still have hemorrhaging out there and we have to get it staunched."
By summer 1994, Freedom District customers will pay an estimated $450 annually in water and sewer bills. The current estimated annual charge is $220.
Annual sewer costs in Hampstead are projected to increase from $149 to $275 by 1994.
The graduated rate increases take effect beginning with the next quarterly billing period for each customer.
More than 6,000 customers in Eldersburg, Sykesville and Hampstead use the systems.
The county now charges a $13.21 quarterly fee for fixed operating costs for the Freedom water system and 25 cents per 1,000 gallons of water used. Those charges will increase to $15.59 and 60 cents for the next quarterly billing period; $17.97 and 95 cents after July 1, 1993; and $20.35 and $1.30 after July 1, 1994.
The county charges $19.17 quarterly for fixed operating costs of the sewage treatment plants and $1 per 1,000 gallons treated.
Those charges will increase to $20.92 and $1.49 for the next quarterly billing period; $22.67 and $1.98 after July 1, 1993; and $24.42 and $2.46 after July 1, 1994.
Freedom District sewer service customers also will be charged $61.50 annually until the year 2012 to pay debt on the upgrade of the plant's discharge system.
The cost of doubling capacity at the plant -- expected to be completed this fall -- will be borne solely by new residents connecting to the system.
One-time connection charges for use of a transmission line were increased from $710 to $2,170 for the Freedom water system and from $3,098 to $5,112 for the Freedom sewage plant.
The connection charge for the Hampstead sewage plant was decreased from $1,275 to $1,146.
Mrs. Gouge said she abstained from the voting because she's "not completely satisfied" with the rates.