Havre de Grace water commission suggests 15 percent rate hike

Havre de Grace residents could see their water bills spike by at least 15 percent next year, if the city council takes up the recommendations of the water and sewer commission.

The commission wants the city to raise rates by 15 percent above the already-legislated 5-percent increase, according to a report delivered Monday night to city council members at their meeting by commission member Garrett Lyttle.

The recommendation comes on the heels of the city's ongoing debate over Capital Cost Recovery fees, which have not created the funding boost Havre de Grace expected.

"Even though this program has not realized the stimulus in construction of new homes that were hoped for, the national trend in more construction of new homes may soon filter down to our area," the commission wrote in its report.

"The Commission still believes that this program is a viable method in stimulating new construction and tends to be more important to the smaller builders," the report says.

The rate increase, meanwhile, will be needed if Capital Cost Recovery fees continue to lag, according to the report.

"This revenue increase will be needed to be applied to the ongoing debt situation," the commission wrote. "It is primarily debt service, not operational costs, which creates the financial stress on Fund 9 [the water and sewer fund]."

Council President Randy Craig cautioned the rate hike is just a proposal, since the city's budget for 2015 is far from being approved.

Councilman Bill Martin, however, came out already as being opposed to the rate increase, calling it just one more tax burden for the residents of Havre de Grace and surrounding areas.

He called the consideration of a water rate hike "an annual tradition."

"This is an enterprise fund and it has to be self-sustaining, and water is a public health concern. It's nothing that can be played politics with," Martin said.

He noted he recently got a $350 water bill and had to have a talk with his wife and children about it, but pointed out that a 20 percent rate increase would have meant $70 more on that bill.

"That is a serious increase that I am being asked to consider and vote for," he said. "I am extremely uninclined to do this increase."

"It will have to be brown water trickling out of my faucet before I do this for the citizens of Havre de Grace," Martin continued, adding he has already received "a lot of e-mails" on the issue.

"It is not a rubber stamp issue," he said about the council's vote. "The rates have not been raised yet. It's in the council's hands now."

Mayor Wayne Dougherty pointed out the city is still paying off the state-mandated BNR (biological nutrient removal) improvement project that was ordered years ago.

Waterfront house to be demolished

The council gave the green light to demolish the house on the Gamatoria property, at 701 Concord Street.

The city bought the property with plans of using as a waterfront park and has a $100,000 Project Open Space grant for it.

Dougherty said he had four offers on the house itself but ultimately, "it didn't work for them."

"The biggest problem for them was the moving of the structure," Dougherty said, adding he postponed the demolition decision for two months to seek offers.

"We gave it our best shot but the cost of moving the house was not there," he said.

He confirmed the city has money in its budget for the home to be demolished.

Hearings on committee reports, annexation

Joe Kochenderfer had a few concerns about an amended resolution to approve the 244.4-acre annexation of the Green, Ianniello and Patrone properties off of Level and Chapel roads.

The amendment would allow two parcels of the Green property to get the city's agricultural zoning instead of the RB (residential-business) zoning, if the city creates an ag zoning during the five-year period when the county has authority over the land.

After those five years, authority would be transferred to the city and all property in the annexation would be zoned RB. The property is currently zoned for agriculture.

Kochernderfer wondered if more parcels could potentially be allowed to stay agricultural if their owners wish it.

He also said it might not be desirable for an extension of the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway Trail to connect Level Road to the "closest point" the annexed property comes to Chapel Road, as the resolution states.

Bill Watson, a city resident who is also chair of the tourism advisory board, spoke in support of an ordinance that would make all city boards and committees file an annual public report to the mayor and city council, as well as attend a joint public work session.

Watson said his board recently discussed the idea and all members agreed that more communication between the various boards is needed.

He said there were several occasions when knowing what other board were doing would have been helpful.

"Open, proactive communication is always desirable to duplication of effort," he said.

The council also held hearings on ordinances to amend the city ethics code and add duties to the historic preservation commission.

No one spoke on those topics.

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