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Bel Air introduces legislation to increase the town's sewer rate

BY KRISHANA DAVIS, kdavis@baltsun.com

6:00 AM EST, January 8, 2014

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Bel Air's residents and businesses will pay more for sewer service, if a majority of the town commissioners vote for the rate increase ordinance introduced at Monday night's town meeting.

Lisa Moody, the town's Finance Director, recommended the introduction of Ordinance No. 765-14, which will increase the sewer rate for Bel Air customers by 22 cents, from $5.27 per 1,000 gallons of water used to $5.49 per 1,000 gallons of water used. Users will also see a 4.2 percent increase in their base rate, which varies according to the size of the customer's water service line and meter. Moody said meter sizes in Bel Air vary from 5/8 inches to six inches.

In Bel Air, residents are billed quarterly. Moody said residents use, on average, about 14,000 gallons per quarter. She said officials determined the quarterly bills would increase about $3.31 based on the smallest water meter size, five-eighths inch.

Moody said the town's sewer rate increase is in anticipation of increases to the bulk rate Harford County charges the town to treat its sewage. The county has proposed a 44-cent increase in bulk rate charges, Moody said.

"We still have some additional questions we have proposed back to the county, but we want to move forward with our increase in the town's rate," Moody said during the meeting.

The proposed increase to bulk rate sewage treatment will cost the town an additional $80,400, which will be retroactive to July 1, 2013.

"In order to fund the anticipated charges, the town felt we needed to increase our town service rates by 22 cents," Moody said.

If approved, the town's rate increase will go into effect Feb. 18, generating the town $36,400 by the ended of FY 2014. The Town of Bel Air will be responsible for paying the difference between the bulk rate charges and additional revenue grossed from the rate increase, which is $44,000.

Moody said the proposed 22-cent town sewer rate increase should level out the cost difference between the county's bulk rate increase in FY 2015.

Commissioner Edward Hopkins emphasized that the town's sewer rate increases are directly caused by the county increasing the bulk rate for sewer treatment for the town. He said, unlike Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, which have their own sewage treatment systems, Bel Air relies on the county for treatment.

"Were it not for what the county is doing, we wouldn't be looking at rate increases," Hopkins said.

Moody said the last time the county increased its sewer rate was March 20, 2009 outside of inflation based on the consumer price index.

The town will hold a hearing on Jan. 21 for public input about the pending legislation.

Tax break for Upper Chesapeake

The town commissioners approved a 90 percent tax break for CSFG-UCH Energy LLC for the eight-year period the company will own and operate a new "continuous, uninterrupted" generator system for Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.

Under the Health and Safety Economic Development Grant Agreement, UCH Energy LLC will pay the town $2,250 per year in personal property taxes while owning and operating a clean energy electricity, steam and water generator for the medical center.

Moody said the 2,000 kilowatt generator will provide continuous and uninterrupted heat and power to the medical facility.

After eight years, the medical center has the option of buying the generator system, which Moody said Upper Chesapeake has expressed interest in doing.

"UCMC is a major employer ... it is in the best interest to the town to do as much as they can to make it advantageous," Moody said.

CSFG-UCH Energy LLC is also going into an agreement with Harford County government for other tax incentives, Moody said. She said the tax breaks will help to reduce the cost of power for Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.

Annual growth report

The Bel Air town commissioners voted to accept the amended 2012 Harford County Growth Report Monday night.

The annual report was created 1997 under the Smart Growth Areas Act requiring municipalities to adopt adequate feasibility standards, Kevin Small, director of planning for the town, said.

Based on the report, the town's planning committee determined the town is clear for residential growth near its schools, Small said.

In Bel Air, if a school has enrollment of 115 percent capacity or higher, there would be a halt in residential growth near the school.

"In the Town of Bel Air, there are no schools operating at 115 percent or higher capacity," Small said. "The schools are actually operating at much less, with a trend showing a decline in enrollment."

Small said no schools are in a development moratorium.

Cultural Arts Commission

The number of members of the Cultural Arts Commission required to make a quorum for official meetings was reduced from five to three during the town meeting.

The Cultural Arts Commission has recently had two of its nine seats vacated in recent weeks, Trish Heidenreich, Director of Economic Development, said, which makes it difficult to maintain a majority - five members - during official meetings.

"A three-member quorum would allow for more flexibility to make official decisions when necessary," Heidenreich said.

Heidenreich said other nine-member boards such as the Economic and Community Development Commission were approved for a three-member quorum, which has worked well for holding meetings and official business.

The town held a public meeting to discuss changes to the quorum before voting to approve.

Appointments and Acknowledgments

The town acknowledged Mike Blum, who heads the annual Christmas parade, for a job well done in organizing and heading the celebration. Blum was given gift cards and other goodies from the town commissioners and economic development department for his hard work.

Michael Simini was re-appointed to the tree committee for a three-year term by the town commissioners.

The town commissioners appointed Scott Farley to the historic preservation commission for a three year term.