Water fees to increase in 60 days

Council OKs measure applying higher rate during the summer

Alarm bill postponed

Panel ponders how to cover the costs of the program

May 02, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council approved higher residential and commercial water rates effective this summer but postponed action on a bill last night that would impose fines for repeated false burglar alarms.

The vote was 4-0 on both measures, and the water rate increase will take effect in 60 days.

Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon, whose wife had a girl yesterday -- their first child -- was absent.

Under the water measure, the rate increase would be applied during warm-weather months, making Howard the first Maryland subdivision to impose seasonally adjusted water rates. The increase is needed, the county says, because it costs more to pump water purchased from Baltimore during warmer months when demand is high.

"It is more expensive in summer for us to deliver water," said Bob Beringer, chief of the county Bureau of Utilities. With demand high, the county has to operate electric-powered pumping stations at all hours.

"In the summer, you just pump and keep on pumping," Beringer said.

Howard last increased its rates in 1994.

This year, Howard paid $4.4 million for water bought from Baltimore for 54,000 users. The county faces a $5.4 million bill for the fiscal year starting July 1 because the city increased water rates 19 percent. Baltimore supplies water to the metropolitan area.

The average user in Howard will pay about $12.40 more for water during the two warm-weather calendar quarters, Beringer said. A family of four will see an average increase of $14.65 in each of those quarters.

Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, voted for the rate increase. But "I'd like to work out some way to help businesses that use a lot of water in the summertime," said Kittleman, who suggested an extended payment plan.

On the false-alarm bill, Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel/Savage Democrat, said several council members want more time to decide whether a proposed $35 one-time registration fee is enough to pay to administer the program and who should pay it.

County police want the bill to help reduce the growing number of false burglar alarms at businesses and homes.

Police responded to 23,207 false alarms last year, an increase of nearly 5,000 over the previous year, and it cost the department more than $1 million in lost staff hours.

The bill, besides requiring a $35 registration fee from alarm owners, would gradually increase fines from $50 for a third false alarm to a maximum of $1,000 for 14 false alarms.

Several council members want to look closely at how to pay for the program's start-up and yearly costs, Guzzone said. The police first proposed a $50 registration fee, he said.

Police Lt. Glenn Hansen said the cost of buying software and starting the program is unclear but should range from $300,000 to $574,000 for the first year. Each year after, administrative costs should be about $123,000, Hansen said.

Who should pay any extra administrative costs is a decision elected officials must make, Hansen said.

Baltimore County has no registration fee, Charles County has an annual $20 fee and Montgomery County charges a one-time $30 fee, Hansen said.

Under the bill, businesses would be regulated, starting in January. Police Chief Wayne Livesay was not upset with last night's postponement.

"I'm comfortable we can work it out," he said.

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