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News Maryland Harford County Aberdeen Havre De Grace

Aberdeen council signs on to $800,000 water authority study

The city of Aberdeen voted Monday night to move forward with the proposed countywide water and sewer authority, the first of Harford's three municipalities to agree to contribute to the $800,000 study.

But Mayor Mike Bennett reiterated the city wasn't agreeing to join the authority, just to continue the study.

Members of the city council voted 4-1 to provide $81,348 for the study; Councilwoman Ruth Elliott was alone in voting against the participation, which was done as a budget amendment.

The amendment was approved under the condition that two members of the advisory committee to the study, City Manager Doug Miller and Mayor Mike Bennett, approve of the scope of work.

Elliott called it a waste of money for taxpayers and noted it was Harford County Executive David Craig's "third try" at creating such an authority.

The authority would bring together the management of independent water systems in Havre de Grace, Bel Air, Aberdeen and the county. To date, none of the other municipalities has agreed to fund the study, which is the second phase of the process to create the authority.

"Who pays? Again, the taxpayer," Elliott said.

She said out of 3,141 cities in the U.S., the county government only offered up two, in North Carolina and Virginia, as models of municipalities joining such a water authority.

"Water is our most valuable commodity," she said, wondering why the city would even consider placing it under someone else's control.

Elliott said taxpayers have already spent an "astronomical" amount of money on water and sewer upgrades in the past few years.

With a centralized authority, "we will be besieged by the rates, that's for sure," she said. "We shouldn't be spending taxpayers' money on a bad idea."

Elliott said the city should tell Harford County to find the money itself.

"The study is doomed, in my opinion, for failure," she said.

Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said she agreed with Elliott's arguments, but not some of her conclusions.

"I say, for all of those reasons – the power, the questions – which I think were very valid reasons, we need to pay [for the study] so we have a voice at the table, so the control is not taken out of our hands," Landbeck said.

Not signing on for the study "is a recipe for disaster," she said.

Bennett repeated during Monday's council meeting that agreeing to do the study does not mean the city has signed on for the authority.

"We are not saying we are going to be a part of it. We are saying we want to continue to study it," he said.

New hotel

The council also approved a preliminary site plan to let the owner of La Quinta Inn, at Route 22 and West Bel Air Avenue, split the building into two hotels, La Quinta Inn and Hampton Inn.

The project would increase the total number of rooms from 124 to 170. The new La Quinta Inn would have 81 rooms and Hampton Inn would have 89, Amy DiPietro, representative for Crossroads Hospitality Inc., said.

The footprint of the property would stay the same, she said. The two hotels would be adjacent to each other, with a courtyard in the middle.

Crossroads proposes 182 parking spaces, including six handicap-accessible spaces.

The proposed 21,000-square-foot Hampton Inn would have a business center, fitness area and indoor pool. La Quinta Inn would have an outdoor pool.

Crossroads will also try to get LEED certification for both hotels, designating them to have met certain environmentally-friendly characteristics.

Council salaries, election bills

The council passed charter resolutions making some changes to the city's electoral process, including noting that election board members serve four-year terms starting in July 2016, specifying that the candidate residency requirement is not affected by the 21-day period before an election and specifying that candidates must complete the financial disclosure forms.

The council introduced, but has yet to vote on, three bills dealing with campaign finance and future mayor and council salaries.

The campaign finance bill requires campaign treasurers to provide contact information, file a final report no later than Jan. 31 after a city election and return or donate remaining campaign funds within 60 days of the November 2015 election.

The bill specifies the purposes for which campaign contributions can be used, including printing signs, printing and mailing campaign materials, providing meals for campaign workers, renting tents or rally-related supplies and costs associated with producing or distributing campaign materials, attending related functions, outdoor advertising and clothes for campaign workers.

Another bill proposes that any future mayors receive an annual salary of $17,000 in the first year of office, with the salaries in future years being based on the consumer price index.

Council members, meanwhile, would earn $12,000 each year for the first year after the next election.

Residents Bob Hartman, Mike Hiob and Michael Danish criticized the proposed salary increase.

"Elkton is larger than Aberdeen and they get paid less," Hartman said about city officials in the Cecil County town.

He thinks residents should vote on the increases, not council members.

"We the people need to take control of your raises," he said.

Hiob said the council is paid more than its counterparts in Bel Air, Havre de Grace or parts of Cecil County.

"There is absolutely no merit in bringing up this issue for consideration at this time," he said.

Surplus property, snow removal

The council allowed Police Chief Henry Trabert to render three vehicles surplus and sell them at auction. The vehicles are a 1995 Dodge Dakota, a 2002 Crown Victoria and a 2000 Cadillac Eldorado.

Public works director Matt Lapinsky also got approval to surplus a long list of various pipes, door parts, concrete forms and assorted equipment pieces he hopes to sell on GovDeals.com.

Lapinsky told residents he hopes to continue implementing the policy of having people park on the even side of the street on even days and on the odd side of the street on odd days for snow removal.

Lapinsky noted at least 20 residents called during one recent cold snap because they had no water because of frozen pipes. He suggested residents keep a small amount of water dripping during extremely cold temperatures to keep the pipes from freezing.

Bennett also reminded residents they cannot park on snow emergency routes during a snow emergency.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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