Water rates could drop

Official seeks review of payment formula for Freedom area

Region growing quickly

July 23, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Residents of the Freedom area, Carroll's most populous region, might see their water and sewer bills shrink next summer.

The county commissioners are expected to order a study next week that would examine the formula used to calculate the rates for public water and sewer service. The formula, which officials call complex, was adopted in 1970.

"We would like to look at the alternatives," county Comptroller Eugene C. Curfman told the three-member board of commissioners yesterday. "By changing the formula, we may be able to decrease the rates for certain users, particularly the elderly and low-volume users."

A change in the formula would require approval by the General Assembly, Curfman said.

The commissioners would have to include proposed amendments in their legislative package for the Carroll delegation. The next legislative session opens in January, making any change impossible to implement until July 2000.

"Nothing will change between now and next June," Curfman said. "In fact, it may be July 2001 before any changes can be implemented."

If ordered by the commissioners, the study would take about 90 days. It is not known how much the study would cost.

Freedom, which includes all of South Carroll and its 28,000 residents, has about 6,500 households hooked into the county-owned utilities. It was not known yesterday how many of those households would realize savings if the formula is changed.

Residents say any rate decrease would be welcome. They have long complained about the cost of public water and sewer service. Over the years, longtime residents say they have seen a steady increase in their quarterly bills.

"We used to pay $15 a quarter; now it's $120 for two people," said Carolyn Fairbank, who made an unsuccessful run for commissioner last year, basing her campaign on water and planning issues. Fairbank hooked into the public system 20 years ago.

The county's public utility customers pay $1.40 per 1,000 gallons of water and $2.65 per 1,000 gallons of sewage treated -- about 5 percent more than they did last year. The average household uses about 25,000 gallons of water each year, records show.

The revenue raised from the public utilities is used to cover debt service incurred by the county for capital projects. Those projects include expanding Freedom Water Treatment Plant, which is expected to cost about $5 million. The plant has a daily capacity of 3 million gallons. The water comes from Liberty Reservoir, which is owned by Baltimore.

High demand on the water supply during hot, dry spells often means residents must cope with restrictions. For the third consecutive year, the commissioners have banned outdoor water use in South Carroll. The situation could get worse as more people move into the Freedom area.

By 2015, if population projections hold true, the water treatment plant will need to process 6.2 million gallons daily. Such an increase in demand would require $46 million in improvements to the water and sewer systems, according to a $70,000 engineering study by Whitman, Requardt and Associates of Baltimore.

The study suggests that new residents pay for the upgrades, through fees assessed on construction.

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