Council vote set on Navy sewer costs

OK'ing of deal today would boost rate for academy 65%

Division among officials

Alderman complains agreement subsidizes federal government

October 22, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

A tentative agreement reached by the city of Annapolis and the federal government on an increased sewer rate for the Naval Academy will go before the city council tonight for a vote after more than a year of negotiations.

The agreement calls for a renegotiated rate for the academy that is 65 percent higher than what it pays now.

Still, it falls short of the rate paid by other high-use customers in the city, including the state government and St. John's College - a difference of about 70 cents per thousand gallons or about $200,000 for city coffers per year.

The new rate also is not retroactive to March last year, the month all other city sewer customers had their rates raised. Instead, it would have the Navy pay the increased rate retroactively to July, when the tentative agreement was reached.

Mayor Dean L. Johnson said that while he is not completely satisfied with the proposal - $2.59 per thousand gallons compared to $3.29 for other high-use customers in the city - he thinks it is the best that the city can get.

"I may not like it, but it resulted from some hard negotiation," he said.

The proposed contract has already come under fire by Alderman Herbert H. McMillan, who made it a major issue in his race against Johnson in the mayoral primary. McMillan defeated Johnson last month, winning the Republican nomination for mayor.

McMillan sponsored a resolution that passed in the spring, directing the mayor to negotiate a rate equal to that paid by other customers in the city or bring it back to the council for approval.

"I see no documentation that justifies charging a lower rate to the federal government than to St. John's College or the state government or a business or homeowner in the same category of service," McMillan said. "I don't think we should continue to be in a position where we have to subsidize the federal government's sewer rate."

McMillan said he thinks that the city should continue negotiating the contract, especially since it is not retroactive to the change in city law, as previous renegotiated rates have been.

Johnson said that he is bothered by the contract's lack of retroactive payment.

From March last year through last month, the difference between the Navy's current rate of $1.57 per thousand gallons and the rate paid by the rest of the city resulted in a loss of almost $740,000 to the city. If the new renegotiated rate of $2.59 applied retroactively, the city would be able to recover about $440,000 of that difference.

Johnson said he has been in contact with Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, whose office he says has been working with the Navy on the city's behalf to improve the deal. Gilchrest's efforts have produced no result so far, Johnson said.

But in support of the negotiations conducted by his administration, Johnson pointed out that the new rate is an increase of about 65 percent - the same percentage increase the rest of the city began paying in March last year. He noted that the Naval Academy maintains its own infrastructure - underground sewage pipes that Johnson says cost the Navy about $1 million a year. The Naval Academy, the largest user of the Annapolis sewer system, is the only customer that negotiates its rate with the city. This puts the Navy in separate category, Johnson said.

Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, the Democrat who will face McMillan in the Nov. 6 mayoral election, agreed with Johnson that the Navy's case is unique.

"If we were subsidizing the Navy, we would be paying for their infrastructure," Moyer said, noting that the city does not maintain the Naval Academy's sewer system. "The Naval Academy is like a small city - their infrastructure is comparable to the city's."

She points out that if the city refuses this proposal, the Navy will continue paying its current rate.

McMillan, an academy graduate and Naval Reserve officer, said that if the city cannot get a better deal than the one on the table now, it should consider dissolving the contract with the Navy.

The Annapolis city council will meet at 7 p.m. in the council chambers in City Hall on Duke of Gloucester Street for a public hearing and meeting.

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