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Havre de Grace mayor, council members take oaths for new terms

Havre de Grace City Councilmen Fred Cullum, John Correri and Randy Craig were sworn into their new council terms, and Mayor Wayne Dougherty was back at the helm for another term Monday night.

After spending about an hour and half in closed session, the six council members selected Randy Craig to preside as council president for the coming year.

The mayor and council also bid farewell to Councilwoman Barbara Wagner, who served two years and did not run for re-election.

Councilman Bill Martin said he will miss "having a lady on the council."

Wagner, who was replaced by Cullum, was presented with a small vase and left city hall carrying a bouquet of flowers from the reception that followed the meeting.

After he administered the oaths of office to the mayor and the three recently elected council members, Harford Circuit Judge Emory Plitt, a longtime Havre de Grace resident, received a proclamation from Dougherty thanking him for more than four decades of service to the city and county. Plitt retired from the bench in February.

"It's been a good ride," Plitt said, smiling, calling Havre de Grace a warm community.

Water and sewer

During Monday's meeting, the city council passed an ordinance setting water and sewer rates through 2016 with an amendment that changes the billing to ensure a resident is billed the rate at the beginning of each quarter.

Councilman Joe Smith challenged the amendment, after water and sewer commission member Joe Kochenderfer suggested the finance department be consulted on the new billing situation and said he was concerned about how it might affect the fund's debt status.

Wagner's husband had raised the issue of residents being billed for water they had not used yet, and Dougherty and Craig defended the amendment as being an issue of fairness.

Finance Director George DeHority, in response to a question from Smith, explained the change will cause the city to lose $90,000 annually in the water and sewer fund.

Dougherty said he would address that issue with a budget transfer, which he said he planned to discuss when the budget came up for final approval.

The mayor said the budget transfer will come from a one-year saving from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, after which the city can be "creative" in coming up with new solutions.

Craig also said he is confident the council will be able to go through the budget in future years and find what is needed to charge residents a fair rate.

"The fund challenges haven't generally been focused on the operational side, but is mostly related to housing and finance development," Craig said of the revenue shortfalls the water and sewer fund has experienced in recent years. Craig said the city does a good job on the operational side with the water and sewer fund.

"You're talking about five cents for five gallons of water," he said. "I think that's a very fair rate for our citizens and I'm hopeful that this will pass."

The amendment passed with Smith voting against it, but he nevertheless voted for the final bill, which will increase the basic rates for water by 25 cents and for sewer service by 35 cents.

Starting July 1, the basic quarterly water rate will be $4.80 per 1,000 gallons. Starting July 1, 2014, the basic rate will be $5.05 per 1,000 gallons. On July 1, 2015, the rate will be $5.30 per $1,000 gallons. 

The quarterly sewer rate will be $7.20 per 1,000 gallons of water starting July 1. On July 1, 2014, the rate will be $7.55; on July 1, 2015, it will be $7.95. Non-metered users will pay $150 per dwelling unit per quarter.

Property tax rate lowered

The council also passed a lower property tax rate to 56 cents per $100 of assessable value, as had been planned. The new rate for the 2014 fiscal year beginning on July 1 will be 2 cents lower than this year's rate.

Craig and Councilman Bill Martin said they were proud to be able to approve another tax rate reduction.

Martin said he heard from the Maryland Municipal League that Havre de Grace is the only municipality that has lowered its tax rate for seven years.

"I'm very happy to vote for tax cuts," Martin said.

Final vote count

The final count from the May 7 election, as announced Monday by the county's Board of Elections, showed that Dougherty received 1,011 votes while his challenger Jim Miller got 589 votes.

On the council end, candidate Tom Barnes received 731 votes, Correri 924 votes, Craig 1,073 votes, Cullum 885 votes and Bob Greene 510 votes.

For the first referendum question, addressing refunding bonds, 1,304 residents voted in favor and 223 voted against it.

For the question on buying Steve Gamatoria's property next to the lighthouse, 1,164 residents voted in support of it and 579 voted against it.

Planning Director Neal Mills said the fourth plan for the Upper Chesapeake Hospital at Route 155 and I-95 had been approved by the State Highway Administration and he expected work to begin in about 2017.

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