Carroll Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier questioned yesterday whether the county should force homeowners living near a public water main to connect to the pipeline - even though she voted in favor of the requirement last year.
Such connection fees are used to help finance water projects - in this case, the contentious $15 million water treatment plant proposed at Piney Run Lake in Sykesville.
"If we don't have to require hookups, I don't feel we should," said Frazier. "I'd be upset if I had a good well and someone told me I have to spend $5,000 to get water. That's a lot of money."
She asked county staff to determine how much revenue would be lost if the Board of County Commissioners were to waive the connection requirement.
The commissioners adopted last summer an ordinance requiring "every abutting property owner, after due notice, shall make a connection" when a water main is constructed. Once the county issues a notice, the property owner has a year to connect.
Frazier and Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted in favor of the new law, which also increased connection fees - set at $4,725 for water and $4,500 for sewer hookups - and established maintenance charges that vary by property, based on each site's road front footage. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge voted against the measure because, she said, she opposed maintenance fees.
The commissioners discussed the ordinance yesterday during a routine staff meeting with Doug Myers, the county's public works director. Myers told the commissioners he feared the issue would be raised during a public hearing on construction of a water main on Obrecht Road in Sykesville. That water main would run in front of 11 properties and end at the site of the proposed Piney Run Lake plant.
Dell and Gouge opposed waiving the hookup requirement. Both said they feared such action would set a precedent the county could not afford to establish. "I don't see there's any financial resolution to this except to make them hook up," Dell said. Added Gouge: "If we waive the requirement, there's no guarantee we will have enough money to run the [public water] system, then people already on the system will have to pay more and I don't think that's fair." Frazier countered: "The worse thing that will happen is that we'll have to change our fee structure."
At the public hearing, residents will be given an opportunity to review plans for the water main. Frazier and Dell are pushing construction of the Piney Run Lake plant despite rising opposition from nearby residents and a lack of state support.
Several homeowners have expressed anger at the prospect of abandoning their wells and paying to hook into the public system.
Sykesville and Eldersburg have had severe water shortages three of the past four summers that required strict conservation measures such as limits on watering lawns, gardens and shrubs and a ban on washing vehicles. A similar shortage is predicted this summer.
The hearing is scheduled at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at Freedom Elementary School, 5626 Sykesville Road (Route 32) in Sykesville.
In other business, the commissioners approved Carroll's first purchase-installment agreement as part of the state's Rural Legacy land conservation program.
Purchase-installment agreements are an increasingly popular method of buying farmland into permanent conservation because they defer tax impact on farmers. In exchange for preserving his land, the farmer receives a down payment and tax-free annual interest payments on the remaining value of the property for 20 or 30 years. Only at the end, when the state or county pays the balance on the full easement, does the farmer face a large tax obligation.
Frank and Beverly Gorsuch will become the first Carroll farmers to use such a plan by selling their 100-acre property near Union Bridge into the Rural Legacy program.
Farmers cannot use installment-purchase plans when selling their land into the state's general farmland preservation program. But Carroll preservation director Bill Powel hopes to change that by making the plans available using county money.
Powel has long believed that by making installment-purchase plans an option, the county will attract a new wave of farmers into its preservation program. Powel said he would ask the commissioners to add the installment-purchase option to the county program this year.
Sun staff writer Childs Walker contributed to this article.