Havre de Grace to consider signing on to study of countywide water and sewer authority

Havre de Grace City Council President Randy Craig grilled Harford County officials on their plans for the proposed countywide water and sewer authority Wednesday.

Tim Whittie, director of the Harford County Department of Public Works, was joined by several other officials – including Craig's father, County Executive David Craig – in their bid to get Havre de Grace to sign on to phase two of the authority creation plan.

Phase two would entail a comprehensive survey of the authority's operations, including defining how annexations would be handled and a compensation and benefits plan for employees.

Although any agreement on phases three and four is still far off, the county executive said buying into the $831,000 study would amount to moving forward with the whole plan, as the last two phases are essentially legal technicalities.

"I believe everyone hopes at the end of phase two... that all the questions are answered," David Craig told the city council, noting that "phase three is basically like [saying] we have all agreed."

At least one city councilman, Fred Cullum, seemed to like the idea of moving forward. The council expects to bring up the agreement in a legislative session in early February.

Havre de Grace, which has struggled with deep debt in its water and sewer fund, could be in a unique position in deciding whether to sign on for the countywide plan.

"I think anyone that's been following the water and sewer [fund] in Havre de Grace knows that it is darn expensive," Randy Craig said.

Randy Craig pointed out the city is required to have a referendum to discharge surplus assets to any authority, which means residents would be voting on the agreement.

Randy Craig said the city will retire its water debt in 2018 and its sewer debt in 2028, which Councilman David Glenn said may nevertheless be sooner than other municipalities.

Glenn said he hoped the study would show both the positives and negatives of joining the authority.

"The way it's laid out, it tends to paint the rosy picture. What I want to see in phase two is the big picture," he said, adding he did not want to be surprised by hidden costs or problems. "We need to know everything in an effort to make an informed decision on behalf of the citizens."

Councilman Joe Smith also said: "We will have to explain to citizens what happens if we don't do this."

Whittie assured the council the study will be "very comprehensive."

The entire project "will be a long process," he said.

Randy Craig said communication will be key going through phase two, and Whittie suggested meeting on a monthly basis to keep everyone posted.

Mayor Wayne Dougherty said he hoped to see more prompt answers than what the council tends to get from administrative officials during its regular legislative hearings.

"At this stage in the game, it is extremely important that if a councilman or someone has a question, there is someone there to answer it," he said.

Randy Craig said he wanted to talk to other jurisdictions who have had similar authorities, instead of just the two listed by the county.

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