All of the water and sewer operations in Harford County, like the one above, would be consolidated under a proposal to create a water and sewer authority. (January 14, 2014)

Tim Whittie, Harford County's public works director, went before the Aberdeen City Council Monday evening in his bid to get all three of the county's municipal governments to sign on for an in-depth study of the proposed countywide water and sewer authority.

The $831,000 study is the second phase in the county's plan to create the authority.

Whittie said the project could eventually have four phases. The first phase was a broader study that gave an overview of what the project might involve.

The county would pay $640,700 of the cost.

Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett said he expects the council to decide whether to sign the latest memorandum of understanding by the end of the month.

"This is a very daunting project," Whittie told the Aberdeen City Council.

He explained the next phase of the study would look at how the comprehensive planning process would be changed with the formation of a new authority, how to develop proposed compensation and other benefits for employees, define how to transition existing employees, identify how to transfer assets and develop a more comprehensive projection for the proposed customer rate structure, among other things.

With the countywide authority, all customers would presumably pay the same rate.

Whittie said stages three and four would include the actual articles of incorporation and the public transfer of assets, liability and debt.

"We are going to look at all three municipalities in the county and identify future costs for facilities," Whittie said. "Whether you decided to proceed into phase three or four, that is basic information you can use in developing future [plans]."

Whittie said the study will take a year to complete, while phases three and four will be further down the road.

He agreed with the council that the proposed authority has many unanswered questions.

"This phase two is going to be able to provide those answers," he said.

Bennett gave an overview of the proposed authority and the justifications for it, such as the uncertainty of future water supply and the benefits of rate stability for users.

Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young asked how the city's responsibilities to Aberdeen Proving Ground fit into that, and City Manager Doug Miller said that has not been considered yet.

Bennett said again there are still a lot of questions to be answered.

"We had talked about annexations and how a water and sewer authority would affect annexations, how they would affect political subdivision growth," he said. "All our questions haven't been answered yet, not to our satisfaction."

"Those have to be dealt with and hammered [out] so we know exactly how it's going to happen," he said, adding he also wants to make sure employees and others will be treated well during transitions.

None of the municipalities have officially committed to phase two yet, but Whittie said he is moving forward with the project.

Whittie will return to the county's Board of Estimates at the end of January to ask for the $831,000, he told Young.

"Yes, ma'am, we are putting forth money," he said. "The county executive and I believe the county council is committed to moving into phase two. They recognize the benefit of this authority as it stands right now, and on further investigation, they are definitely willing to move into phase two."

Councilwoman Ruth Elliott said she wanted to make sure the city kept control of its water.

"My main concern at this point not knowing what may come about is losing control of our water sources here in the city," she said.

Whittie said each government will have at least one board member on the leadership of the authority to ensure representation.

The amount of money each government would pay toward the study is based on the number of its affected residents.

Aberdeen was asked to commit $81,438 toward the cost; Havre de Grace would commit $83,100 and Bel Air $25,761.