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Few show for Darlington water hearing

The Maryland Environmental Service's public hearing Thursday about planned water rate increases in the Darlington district drew a sparse crowd.

Five residents of the small northern Harford County community came for a presentation that explained the sixth biennial revision to the five-year plan, which includes a rate increase for residents who use the MES-operated water service.

The increase, as explained by MES Senior Engineer Duane Wilding, will be $6 per quarter added to the base amount, or a yearly increase of $24 per year. This rate will increase every year until 2016, when increases will stop.

The current base fee is $50.10 per quarter for every resident, regardless of water usage. The proposed increase would bring the quarterly rate to $56.10 in 2012, $62.10 in 2013 and so on until leveling at $80.10 in 2016.

A second rate increase, according to Wilding, would be tied to the Consumer Price Index, and would be adjusted each year based on the previous 12 months.

"The rates we've devised are a very gradual increase," MES Water and Wastewater Executive Director Jerry Wheeler said.

These rates are to help them avoid future losses and pay off the debt Maryland Environmental Service, or MES, has accrued from the original purchase in 1997 and after years of operating at a loss.

The water company purchase was a first for the self-supporting, state government controled agency, which operates as a not-for-profit manager of public and private water and wastewater systems, solid waste disposal and recycling systems. The head of the agency is former Harford County Executive Jim Harkins.

The original debt totaled $295,000, but Wheeler, a former Harford director of public works, said that they have received a grant from Harford County for $75,000 and are asking the MES Board of Directors to "forgive" the $74,500 debt from the original purchase.

With those two amounts subtracted, the debt is at $150,000. By increasing the rate, Wilding said, MES can pay down the debt in 14 years, by 2025.

Most of the debt, around $220,000, Treasurer Henry Cook said, is from operating at a losses for several years.

The CPI increases, too, are to help the Darlington water system become self-supporting, a requirement of the Maryland Department of Environment grant that helped MES upgrade the equipment. Last year, the MES representatives said, the index was 1.2 percent.

Another addition, Wheeler said, is that any new customers would have to pay a $2,000 connection fee.

"Any new customer that comes in needs to bring some equity into the system," he said.

Project Manager Skip Immler added, however, that there have not been any new customers for awhile. In an answer to a resident Frank Garrett's question, Immler said there are four to five possible building lots that could be developed and that MES could handle additional customers.

Frank and Joan Garrett are former owners of the Darlington water system, and they asked MES representatives several questions, including the possibility of extending service beyond the elementary school, where the current system ends.

There are six houses past the school but the cost to extend the water system would cost those homeowners a significant amount of money, Immler said.

None of the residents, however, had any complaints with the rate increase. Joan Garrett also thanked the MES representatives for coming out and apologized on behalf of the residents who could not make it.

After the meeting, she said they were pleased with what MES has done since taking over in 1997, especially the equipment upgrade, which she said was needed.

"We were very happy when they stepped up," Joan Garrett said.

With the public hearing completed, the MES Board of Directors will now schedule the meeting to vote on the rate increase.

The meeting time and date will be posted on http://www.menv.com and http://www.darlingtonwater.com.

MES will be open to public comments through Aug. 26. Residents can mail then to Kaley Walker, 259 Najoles Road, Millersville, Md., 21108 or e-mail at kwalk@menv.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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