"During the first phase of this, one answer that came out was, 'Well, we can guarantee [employees] a job for three years,'" he said.

He said Havre de Grace has "great" water and sewer services, despite the deep debt in the water fund.

"I am still feeling very confident that we are going to work our way out of it," he said of the debt.

If the city joined the authority, he said, future development could only be in the county's favor.

"Who in the world is going to want to annex to the city if they already have water and sewer through the county?" he said.

If the city went ahead with phase two, "if I backed out at that time, how much had I invested? How much would I get back?" Dougherty asked.

The county public works director said the municipalities would not be entitled to refunds should they sign on for the studies then choose not to join the authority.

Although Whittie hesitated to say the authority could pave the way for more development, he said it would help any future development proposal get established.

"If this authority is done well, the authority would be in a good position to be able to serve future development," he said. "Certainly it would make it easier and more effective for more development to be able to get funded."

He added that Havre de Grace and Aberdeen are "all interconnected with their water systems," while Bel Air collects its sewage but discharges it to the county for treatment. Bel Air's water service is provided by a private firm.

Robert Reier, head of Bel Air's board of town commissioners, said a combined authority has been proven to work in other communities and he believes all the town commissioners in the county seat are on board for the study.

He agreed with Whittie that it is likely to facilitate future development.

"I can't help but think that having a consolidated type of authority would help reduce some of the red tape that is involved sometimes in development, but that is probably one of the challenges out there that's yet to be determined," he said.

The authority "seems like it does have a great deal of potential and it would favor the citizens, based on how it's currently conceptualized," Reier said. "At this point in time, the authority seems to be a concept that has worked across the country...I am not one to kind of recreate the wheel."