Ending a sewer sanitary subdistrict in Harford County — thereby relieving property owners of paying annual assessments on the infrastructure — is old hat for County Councilman Jim McMahan. He went through the process himself as a homeowner in the late 1960s and 70s.
“This is nothing new, you have taken these out before,” McMahan said Tuesday evening on Bill 18-001, which calls for repealing the more than 25-year-old Fallston Commercial Corridor subdistrict. “When they run their gamut, they come out of the [county] code.”
The bill was introduced during the Jan. 2 council meeting. Billy Boniface, director of administration for Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, appeared before the council for Tuesday’s public hearing with Public Works Director Joseph Seimek and William Bettin, deputy director in DPW’s Division of Water & Sewer.
No one from the public spoke during the hearing. The council did not take action on the bill during its subsequent legislative session Tuesday.
The move to get rid of the subdistrict comes at a time when people living in houses along its borders are pushing for service to replace their failing septic tanks, as is at least one developer, Michael Euler Sr., who has undeveloped residential properties he wants to receive service so houses can be built.
Getting rid of the subdistrict, the only one in the county’s public water and sewer system, was one of two options available to the administration, according to earlier statements by officials. The subdistrict’s borders also could have been extended to take in the adjoining areas that were added to the county’s designated growth corridor – called the development envelope – so they can be considered for future water and sewer service.
Boniface said the Fallston Commercial Corridor subdistrict was created in 1992 via council legislation. The original legislation created a “funding mechanism” to give property owners in the district access to county sewer service, according to Bill 18-001.
The funding comes from assessments charged to each property owner to cover the cost of building the infrastructure. The subdistrict was expanded in 2004 and 2012.
“The required assessment payment period has been concluded, and since the subdistrict is no longer required, the county executive is respectfully requesting that the council approve having it removed from the Harford County Code,” Boniface said.
He told council members sewer service has expanded in the area of the Fallston Commercial Corridor over the years.
Councilman Joe Woods, who represents the Fallston area, asked what would happen if the subdistrict remains in place.
“We either have to take the subdistrict and increase it in size or remove it,” Boniface said. “Since it only was in place as a funding source, it makes much more sense to go ahead and remove it at this time.”
Property owners will not have to pay the assessment any more, so they will just have to cover regular county charges for sewer service, according to Boniface. Anyone in the area who wants to connect to the county sewer system would pay the typical connection fee, he said, as well the cost of extending lines to their area and for their individual household’s connection.
Councilman Chad Shrodes asked how much home and business owners would save once the subdistrict is repealed. Bettin said he did not have those figures at hand but would provide them to the council, along with a marked, color-coded map of the district, as requested by Councilman Mike Perrone.
“It would help to see everything to scale and also in the context of where the nearby dwelling units are... just so we can look at it and get a visual as to where the choke points are,” Perrone said.
McMahan said his assessment, which came with his tax bill, was $280 a month when he lived on Forest Drive in the Wakefield subdivision south of Bel Air.
McMahan later said he assumed the “enterprise fund cost” when he moved to Forest Drive in 1968 and covered the assessment until it ended in the late 1970s.
“When it was paid off, it came out of the code,” McMahan told Boniface.
Residents in other parts of Fallston, such as Woodridge Manor, are seeking an extension of county sewer service to replace aging septic systems.
They filed a petition for the service over a year ago but were told they would have to wait until the county resolved what would happen with the sanitary subdistrict, Boniface told several Woodridge Manor residents during a public meeting in December.
About 100 residences in Woodrige Manor could receive service, if a majority of the property owners sign the petition. Meanwhile, Euler, one of the developers of Hamilton Reserve II off Harford Road, would be able to move forward on the 25 houses planned for that project once the subdistrict is abolished, according to discussions during a November Development Advisory Committee review of the project.
A two-year-study conducted by Whitman, Requardt & Associates, a Baltimore engineering firm, for the county includes recommendations such as spending $2.4 million to rehabilitate pump stations and sewer mains in the Fallston service area — the WRA study area covers infrastructure along Route 1 between Reckord Road and Old Joppa Road.
Another recommendation in the study is to spend $1 million to extend sewer outside the Fallston subdistrict to adjacent areas in the development envelope eligible for service.
The county would recoup the cost of any upgrades from state and/or federal grants, developer contributions and revenue from customers of the system countywide, a county administration spokesperson said earlier this month.
The cost of service extensions are usually recouped from benefit assessments if the county borrows money, annual charges that run for the life of the bonds sold for the project. The county also could try to obtain state and federal grants for those projects, as well, particularly if they involved replacing failing private septic systems.
Aegis staff members Allan Vought and Erika Butler contributed to this report.
This report is updated from an earlier version.