Havre de Grace's City Council substantially reduced a proposed 15 percent water and sewer rate hike, increasing the charge by 5 percent, which already had been approved.
Councilman Bill Martin, the most vocal opponent of more increases, said the council was able to make cuts in supplies and other planned expenses to eliminate the second rate hike.
Councilman Fred Cullum was the lone dissenter, pointing out the projected savings meant once again banking on additional development.
The council was able to make the projection work, he highlighted, only by including the take from 15 anticipated new water and sewer hook-ups.
"Personally, I think 15 additional connections is a long shot. We will be lucky if we get what we projected originally," Cullum said. The city was originally expecting 50 hook-ups.
"I just think we are spinning our wheels. We are putting it off another year, and the price goes up every year you put it off," he said.
Councilman Randy Craig and others disagreed, saying a rate hike would further deter new development.
"A 20 percent increase, this year or next year - in fact, a 50 percent increase this year or next year - does not solve the problems with the water and sewer fund," Craig said, adding that news of such a hike would make it less appealing for potential homeowners and businesses to move to Havre de Grace.
"I think the council has plans to be a lot more aggressive on the hook-up side," he said.
Cullum said the city has "no contingency" and no money to make repairs to its water plant if there is a problem.
"That is not the way to run a business and that is what the water and sewer fund is. It's a business," he said.
Steve Gamatoria, who was recently elected to the council after an absence, agreed the current model for running the fund is "flawed" and said he hopes to have a "business summit" with developers and other stakeholders to discuss ways to encourage development.
"I know this is a touchy subject, but if we have to drop the hook-up fees to encourage people to build," he would be open to that, he said.
"I am certainly open to new ideas because the old ideas are not working," he said.
Council members put pressure on newly-hired economic development director Tom Lofland to be part of a push for more development.
Martin said he has a "strong feeling" construction will pick up soon. After the meeting, he explained he had heard projects like Greenway Farms, Scenic Manor and potentially Bulle Rock could be seeing movement on residential projects. Residential development has been stalled locally and nationally since the 2008 real estate market collapse.
"I assure the public we are not playing fast and loose with these numbers just to come out of here saying, 'Hey, we got a 5 percent increase,'" he said. "You have my full faith and confidence we can pull this off."
"This is not a shell game we're playing," he said, adding the city still has the largest freshwater source on the East Coast right outside its front door.
"We shouldn't be paying the highest rates in Harford County," he said.
Cullum noted there is a limited number of hook-ups, and "sooner or later, there's going to be no more connections and you are not going to have any more money coming in through that."