Plans to raise fees to go to public hearing

Homebuying charges, water rates would rise

`Share the cost of growth'

Changes would start July 1 if approved

April 30, 2003|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The costs of living in Carroll - from buying a house to taking a shower - would go up this year if the county commissioners approve proposals introduced yesterday by county staff members.

Before voting yesterday to send proposed fee increases to a public hearing next month, the commissioners said Carroll County residents should get used to spending more each year. Otherwise, the county will have no way to pay for new schools, parks and services required by a growing population, the commissioners said.

"We just have to get realistic about how to share the cost of growth," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich.

The commissioners say they want those responsible for growth, such as developers and new homebuyers, to pay the bulk of the increased bill. One proposal they advanced yesterday would substantially increase impact fees the county charges when developers secure building permits.

Those costs - the fees would increase from $4,744 to $7,111 for single-family homes and $3,595 to $7,865 for town homes - generally trickle down to homebuyers. But that downward flow is justified, the commissioners said, because the county must build schools for the children of new homebuyers.

Proposed increases to water and sewer rates would affect all customers on county water and sewer, most of whom live in South Carroll. Under the new fee structure, an average customer in South Carroll would pay about $120 more a year for water and sewer service. Heavy users - those who consume more than 160,000 gallons a year - would pay up to $300 more a year.

County officials gave several reasons for the rate increases. Baltimore City plans to charge Carroll about 9 percent more for the water it takes from the city-owned Liberty Reservoir. Water use also has been down over the past year because of a drought. When people consume less water, they pay more for it because costs for running the county water system are fixed, regardless of how heavily it is used, said county Finance Director Eugene Curfman.

Another proposal introduced yesterday would charge homeowners about $600 more to hook a new house to the county sewer system. Those owners would pay about $300 less to hook up to the county water system.

All the proposed increases are scheduled to go to public hearing next month, and the commissioners will then vote on them. The changes would become effective July 1.

Also next month, the commissioners are to vote on their proposed budget for fiscal 2004, which includes increases to the county's piggyback income tax and its recordation tax for new homebuyers. The income tax increase would raise the average county tax return by $90 and increase the average home settlement cost by $660.

The previous board of commissioners was loath to increase taxes or fees, but as the current board works through its first budget season, the commissioners say they can no longer provide the same services without charging more. Carroll's population grew about 2.8 percent between July 2001 and July last year, faster than any other county in the Baltimore area, according to U.S. Census data.

The county last increased impact fees in 1998, but the commissioners have said they might further increase the fees over the next few years. Impact fees cover only the costs of schools and parks, but county staff members have studied ways to add the cost of road maintenance. Curfman said the county does not have comprehensive data on roads to justify charging fees.

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