Connection fees to rise for water, sewer lines

Commissioners approve 10 years of phased-in maintenance charges

May 18, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners approved increases in water and sewer hookup fees yesterday and added maintenance fees to the property tax bill for all customers of the public utility system.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who voted against the measure, said she agreed with the connection charges -- a one-time fee paid by homeowners who hook into the public system -- but disagreed with maintenance fees. The latter would be phased in and would continue for 10 years.

"I realize that we have to keep the whole system in order, but somewhere along the line, this hits a lot of people hard," Gouge said. "New people should have to pay for whatever it takes to make the system work."

Both fees, which are effective immediately and are uniform throughout the county, will finance a 10-year plan for capital improvements, most notably a $14 million water treatment plant at Piney Run Reservoir in Sykesville.

"We have done a 10-year capital plan instead of year by year wondering what we will have," Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said, "We have to deal with the costs of improvements, and we can't bankrupt the system."

The connection fees will be the same across the county: $4,725 -- up nearly $1,000 -- for water, and $4,500 for sewer, an increase of nearly $3,000 in most areas and a $1,300 drop in South Carroll.

Utility customers also will pay a phased-in maintenance fee based on the roadfront footage of their property. The cost is 92 cents a foot for water and 91 cents a foot for sewer.

"The fees are necessary in order for us to do capital projects," said Gene Curfman, county comptroller, who has held public hearings throughout the county on the increases. "Based on projected construction and collections, we should collect sufficient funds to avoid debt."

Curfman urged the commissioners to implement the fees immediately.

"The longer you delay the more opportunity there is for developers to try to beat it," Curfman said.

In other news, the commissioners reviewed with the county attorney an opinion issued last week by the Open Meetings Compliance Board in response to complaints that county officials had violated the law on more than 50 occasions in the past year.

"It is an 11-page groundbreaking opinion that puts to rest a lot of confusion about what is an executive session," said Laurell Taylor, county attorney. "The bottom line is that we really need to do as much as we can to ignore the executive function.

"I mean do not invoke it," she said. "It is extremely out of vogue."

Taylor provided the commissioners with a list of legal reasons for closing a meeting to the public.

"The reason must be stated, citing the legal authority," she said. "The minutes must list all present, all topics discussed and any action taken. If you are talking even remotely of a change in the reason, you must go back to open session."

She is planning a training session in the fall for the commissioners and department heads and hopes to have in attendance Jack Schwartz, a Maryland assistant attorney general who is well-versed in open meetings law.

"I am hoping we can absorb as much as possible about the law and know when to be concerned about whether a meeting should be closed," Taylor said.

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