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Aberdeen could raise water, sewer, trash rates for 2014

Aberdeen residents could see some increases in their bills for 2014, although property taxes will probably stay the same, city manager Doug Miller told the city council during a Monday work session.

He said he hoped to have the city budget ready for introduction Monday, with a public hearing set for April 22.

"Even though our revenues have stabilized, this is still going to be a very difficult budget to balance," Miller said.

He said the city will probably propose an increase in its trash stickers, partly to pay for the tipping fee at the landfill.

"That fee has been going up every year," he said, explaining that last year it was absorbed in the general fund but he does not think the city can do that again.

He also said he does not think the administration can avoid increasing sewer rates, as it will operate the new enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) plant, which uses "far more electricity than the existing process."

"Water rates are going up to the point that we will probably have to increase water rate," he said.

Miller said as far as expenses in the general fund, he is also looking to recover what the city has had to cut in the past three fiscal years.

Health insurance costs are expected to rise by 8 percent, he said, and he also wants to systematically replace what the city failed to for the past three years, such as getting new trash trucks and replacing aging water meters.

Mayor Mike Bennett has pushed efforts to increase outreach and transparency, Miller said, and he wants to send out 10 newsletters to residents each year instead of six.

Miller said he also wants to start spraying for insects on water management areas that are mosquito breeding grounds.

He added he "would love to hire one employee whose job is nothing but beautification," such as pulling weeds and picking up trash.

New website, grant projects

The city has contracted with a Massachusetts company, Virtual Town Hall, to begin re-designing its website, Miller said.

He said the process should take four to six weeks and he does not know yet exactly what it will look like because the company will offer the city a variety of formats.

"We're very excited about that and we think the citizens will be very excited as well," he said.

Planning and community development director Phyllis Grover said her department is expecting or has received grants for a variety of projects, including $100,000 for a "splash pad" at Festival Park, $50,000 for facade improvements to businesses, $62,000 for sidewalk improvements by Bakerfield Elementary School and $250,000 for site acquisition and demolition on the east side of the MARC train station in connection with the city's ongoing transit-oriented development focus.

Installation of the "splash pad" is expected to start in two months, she said.

She also said the city has received two Community Development Block Grants for lighting at North Deen Park and facility improvements, as well as upgrades at Festival Park.

Bennett added money was requested to put a top coat on railings and the parking lot at Ripken Stadium. He said the city hopes to get the work done soon, "hopefully before the [baseball] season starts."

Grover said the city's planning commission will have a presentation on form-based zoning codes Wednesday. The town of Bel Air approved a form-based zoning code, which focuses more on the physical appearance of development, in 2010.

Miller said there has been a "great deal of confusion" regarding implementation of last year's stormwater bill passed by the state House of Delegates (HB 987), which requires a county or municipality subject to a certain municipal stormwater permit to establish a watershed protection and restoration program by July 1, 2013, including having a stormwater remediation fee and a local watershed protection and restoration fund.

The Harford County Council has recently been looking at a controversial bill that would establish the value of the stormwater remediation fee in Harford.

"It's my understanding that since we have an MS4 [municipal separate storm sewer system] permit, we will be given numbers to meet in terms of non-point source run-off," he said, which he explained means run-off that is not from water treatment plants.

As part of that, the city will have to get its target numbers and create a plan to get to those numbers, as well as assess the cost of that plan, Miller said.

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