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Bel Air officials expect increase in sewer rates

Bel Air town officials expect to propose an increase in residential and commercial sewer rates in order to reflect changes in the bulk rate Harford County charges the town to treat its sewage.

Town Administrator Chris Schlehr told the town commissioners during a work session Tuesday evening that the amount of the increase has not been determined yet because county public works officials must make corrections to "inaccuracies" that Bel Air officials discovered as they were reviewing the county's bulk rate calculations about a month ago.

The town administrator said he had hoped to introduce the new town sewer rate at the next town meeting, Dec. 16, but he will not introduce it until the corrected county bulk rate comes back.

"We haven't [received] the final new bulk rate yet from them but there'll still be an increase for our users, Schlehr said. We just don't know what it is yet."

He said the bulk rate calculations, which are based on county expenses, must conform to a 1988 sewer agreement between the town and the county.

Schlehr and town department heads review the calculations each year.

"We go through every line item in the audit reports that we get to make sure that it's in accordance with what the agreement provides for," he said.

Bel Air sewer customers pay the same current rate of $5.27 per 1,000 gallons of water usage, according to the town website.

Finance Director Lisa Moody said Wednesday that residential customers are typically billed on a quarterly basis and businesses billed monthly.

The customers pay a base charge in addition to the sewer rate — the base charge varies based on the size of the water meter.

The quarterly base charge starts at $7.35 for a five-eighths-inch water meter, typically a home, and is as high as 1,377.83 for a 6-inch water meter for the largest commercial customers.

Schlehr, who is retiring at the end of the month after 21 years with the Bel Air town government, said the calculations must be reviewed "line by line."

"I've been doing it for 21 years and you get to know what should be there and what shouldn't be," he remarked.

Schlehr said he hopes to hear back from county officials either this week or early next week about what the final bulk rate will be.

"We have to figure out how that will translate into an increase to our customers," he said.

New business

The Dec. 16 meeting of the Bel Air town commissioners will be the last for Schlehr, whose final will be Dec. 31.

Schlehr, who is also retired from the Navy and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, has worked for the Town of Bel Air since 1992.

The agenda for the town meeting, which was discussed by Schlehr and the town commissioners during a the work session, includes "Proclamations and Acknowledgments" for him.

A reception will be held after the meeting, according to a copy of the town calendar of events, also presented Tuesday.

The agenda contains several other new business items.

They include Ordinance 764-13, which is based on a recommendation by town officials to reduce the required quorum for Bel Air Cultural Arts Commission meetings from five members to three to hold a meeting.

The Commission has nine members, two of whom have recently resigned, leaving it with seven current members.

Town code requires a majority of the members of a board or commission to be present for a meeting to proceed and make up a quorum, according to a draft copy of the ordinance.

The commissioners will also be asked to give their endorsement to recommendations by the boards of trustees which oversee the separate pension funds for sworn police officers and civilian town employees for a 2.4 percent-increase in the amount which employees contribute toward funding their pension benefits.

Michael Krantz, director of administration, said sworn officers currently contribute 9.22 percent of their pay to fund their pensions, and civilian employees contribute 3.5 percent.

Finally, the commissioners will be asked to vote on a $24,000 purchase of equipment for five town police officers who will be part of a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team of municipal police officers.

Officers from Harford County's two other municipalities, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, will also be part of the team, whose creation was approved earlier this year by all three municipal governing bodies.

Hospital tax break

Town officials plan to put forth a recommendation for Bel Air to enter into a "health and safety economic development grant" with CSFG-UCH Energy LLC, the company which is providing a natural gas-fueled power plant for Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, Schlehr told the town commissioners.

The grant would allow the town to charge the company 10 percent of what it would typically pay in personal property taxes during the eight years it will own and operate the power plant.

The $8 million power generating equipment will give the hospital its own supply of power using clean natural gas energy rather than drawing electricity from the BGE grid.

Upper Chesapeake Medical Center will be able to have power even during an outage, and will allow the county and town to use some of its facilities if needed during emergencies.

Hospital officials are working with Harford County to develop a PILOT – Payment In Lieu Of Taxes – agreement that would reduce the personal property tax payment on the generating facility to 10 percent of would it would be normally.

Schlehr said municipalities cannot enter into PILOT agreements, so Bel Air is using the grant, through which 90 percent of CSFG-UCH Energy's town personal property tax payment would be refunded.

The hospital does not pay property taxes since it is run through a non-profit entity.

"It's not like we're going to lose any money," Schlehr said.

The town administrator explained that the company would pay taxes since it is a for-profit entity, which would be reflected in the electric rate charged to the hospital.

The county and town are working to mitigate that cost to the hospital through the tax breaks. The county government is doing the same.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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