Carroll upset with city over water

Commissioners peeved over money dispute with Baltimore for land

April 30, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Two months after signing an agreement designed to protect land surrounding reservoirs owned by Baltimore City and to herald a new era of cooperation between the city and Carroll County, the Carroll commissioners are complaining that the spirit of camaraderie is evaporating.

The commissioners said yesterday that they have been stymied in their bid to draw water from city-owned Liberty Reservoir at reduced rates and have been told they would get no break on the price of land needed to expand the Freedom water plant. The city is increasing the cost of water by about 9 percent and insisting the county pay the going price for the land.

"We talked to the city, and basically we learned we are a customer, and we will get increases like anybody else," said Douglas Myers, county director of public works. "We were told that the city Board of Estimates and the City Council are not sympathetic to the needs of Carroll County or of any other counties."

In February, the county signed the Watershed Protection Agreement, a nonbinding pact, amid fanfare and declarations that rancor between previous Carroll administrations and the city had been put to rest.

"I signed what was a good-faith agreement to be collegial neighbors," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said yesterday. "Certainly, the symbolism is gone. It is like we had a date last night, and they don't know us this morning."

The city will continue to negotiate with Carroll in good faith, said George Winfield, Baltimore's director of public works.

"It is not my intent to cause friction at this early stage," Winfield said. "That is not something the city or county wants."

The county, whose water contract with the city dates to 1968, says it is paying too much for raw water drawn - up to 3 million gallons a day - from Liberty Reservoir.

The commissioners are seeking 2 acres of the city's watershed property to expand the Freedom plant, a project that would double treatment capacity to 6 million gallons a day. The plant pumps treated water to about 7,000 homes and businesses in South Carroll, the county's most populous area and one that suffers from seasonal water shortages.

City public works officials said the county would have to negotiate a deal with the city comptroller and pay the fair market value of the land.

"That could be a lot of money for land that nobody is using," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "It seems we are being pushed hard against the wall."

Minnich said that paying fair market value for land in South Carroll, where building lots sell for more than $100,000 an acre, would be a problem.

"It is watershed land that they can't use, and they are going to gouge us for it," Minnich said.

The county pays the city a nominal $1 annually for the Freedom plant property. Although Winfield stressed that "nothing is definite," such an arrangement will not be possible for the expansion project.

"We have to see what land is needed and what kind of deal is to be made," Winfield said.

The cost of land and raw water has little to do with the protection agreement, he said.

"They are separate issues, but they do meld together," Winfield said. "There is an understanding that the city will provide additional water to Carroll but not for free."

The city charges Carroll 29 cents per 1,000 gallons of raw water, a rate that soon will increase by about 3 cents when the city's recent increase takes effect. Harford County negotiated a much lower, fixed rate 10 years ago. Since 1993, Carroll has seen its rate double, Myers said. Carroll would like a deal similar to Harford's, he said.

"If Harford came to the table today, it would be on the same playing field," said Winfield, who added that he was uncertain of the renewal terms of the Harford contract. "Everybody is paying the same incremental increases."

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