The Aegis editorial March 5th about consolidating water and sewer systems throughout the County leaves one with some troubling thoughts and questions. The previous generation of County leadership based water and sewer payback on projected new growth – around 1,400 houses or hookups were said to be needed every year to meet the costs. That projection was reasonable back in the wild and woolly fast growth days, but no longer holds true. Last year the Harford County Spending Affordability Advisory Committee stated they were aware that the Water and Sewer Operating fund may indeed incur debt before "repayment by consumers is realized." The committee asserted that the General Fund must be used to satisfy the debt service.
So now the County wants to combine water/sewer systems. This spreads the blame and cost of service to everyone who uses the system. Placing the onus of the cost increases that will be necessary on to a "Water Authority" relieves every politician and bureaucrat from direct fire from angry citizens. In fact, following the State of Maryland's lead with their flush tax levied regardless of septic or sewer use, there is no reason why an Authority could not charge all the County residents whether they use their own private wells and septic, to "even out" the costs. An Authority's membership is not voted on by the citizens. Authority members are handpicked by those who most want to shield themselves from blowback. Authority members are given a specific term of office and are immune to letters, emails, phone calls and communication by citizens. They are not required to respond. Their authority is to make the system pay for itself.
The Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) rules I-95 here in Harford and all toll roads in the State. We discovered when dealing with them during the Section 200 expansion proposal, that they drew their own Development Envelope boundaries, ignored zoning laws and thought nothing of abusing landowners' property rights. As an example of their power, it took the entire legislature this year to delay MdTA's decision to close all the cash lanes on Hatem Bridge by enacting legislation to that end.
Meanwhile, the County has decided to spend well over a half million of our dollars ($647,700) to study "things". It appears the County is determined to surrender its duties and cede control to this new, unaccountable government Authority. The Aegis is correct that development follows water and sewer lines. It also follows roads but that fund appears to be thin now too. The Aegis wondered, "if it [the Authority] will essentially control where new development grows." According to Director of Public Works [Tim] Whittie, he admitted that the Authority would help any future development proposal get established. He is quoted (January 24, 2014 page A2), "If this authority is done well, the authority would be in a good position to be able to serve future development."
A good bet is that Whittie will be a member of that Authority.
The Aegis also wondered about public control and open discussion on the subject. Will we have to wait until there is a bill before the Council giving us only 45 days to read, digest, study, and ask questions before we comment? Will it come as a fiat? This is such a monumental change in the government of our County, we deserve a public airing every step of the way – starting now.
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