The second phase of establishing a water and sewer authority for the whole of Harford County was postponed Thursday when members of the County Board of Estimates delayed a taking a vote on a $831,000 contract related to the project.
Harford County Executive David Craig, who is also chairman of the Board of Estimates, has promoted a quasi-governmental Water and Sewer Authority to oversee and provide water and sewer service across the county. At present, the county is served by four major systems — the county's as well as localized systems in Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace — all of which have different rate structures and organizational features. All four local governments would have to agree to participating in a countywide system before the proposal could move ahead.
Craig recommended delaying a vote after fellow estimates board member Billy Boniface, the Harford County Council president, objected to voting on the contract with GHD Inc. of Bowie before the three municipalities had committed to the project.
"If these municipalities, for any reason, do not sign onto this, this is all worthless," Boniface said. "There's no reason to even begin moving forward ... why put the cart before the horse on this?"
The implementation of the authority has been divided into four phases. County Public Works Director Tim Whittie, also an estimates board member, made a presentation on the project.
He said $2 million has been allocated in the 2014 capital improvement budget to implement the authority.
Whittie said the first phase involved a concept study regarding the merits of establishing the authority; he said after the meeting the first phase cost $300,000.
Future phases involve drawing up articles of incorporation and transferring assets and debt to create the agency. These moves would have to be approved by municipal and county governing bodies.
"Phase I specifically said the only way this is going to work is if everybody's on board, so why would we move forward with Phase II?" Boniface asked.
He acknowledged the authority would be a "non-starter" if none of the municipalities signed on, but it could possibly move forward if two of the three participated.
"If all three municipalities were to back out of it and the county were to be standing here alone, then there wouldn't be any benefit to it at all, but the simple fact that we have two out of the three, we could still look at that," Boniface explained.
The second phase, which was the subject of the contract before the board Thursday, covers the evaluation of items such as handling the annexation of property in unincorporated areas by various political subdivisions for new water and sewer service, developing a comprehensive planning process, as well as a process for the transfer of infrastructure assets to the authority – Aberdeen and Havre de Grace operate their own treatment plants – developing a capital improvement plan, reviewing financial data and developing a customer rate structure, Whittie told board members.
Craig said he had spoken with the mayors of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace, and they told him they were in favor of the authority.
Bel Air's former town administrator, Chris Schlehr, recommended during a town work session last month that the town commissioners proceed with the second phase. Bel Air's sewage already is treated by the county and its water comes from the private Maryland American company.
Whittie said Friday that public work sessions on the authority have been scheduled for Monday at Aberdeen City Hall at 4 p.m. and Wednesday at Havre de Grace City Hall 6 p.m.
Municipal leaders are scheduled to vote on memorandums of understanding within the next month to commit to the second phase, which comes with a financial commitment, Whittie said.
He said Aberdeen would commit $81,438 toward the cost; Havre de Grace would commit $83,100 and Bel Air $25,761.
The county would cover the remaining $640,700.
Craig noted the $640,000 figure would change for the county if a municipality decided not to participate.
"If just one of the municipalities says, 'We're not going to do it,' we would still move forward," Craig said.
The county executive asked for a motion to table a vote until the board's Jan. 23 meeting; the motion was made and board members unanimously approved it.
The vote would take place after the public has had an opportunity to weigh in on the authority.