Baltimore County employee withdraws request for sewer deal that was questioned

A Baltimore County government employee has withdrawn her request for taxpayer help to extend a public sewer line to a property she owns in Reisterstown, a proposal that was first approved by the County Council, then put on hold.

Suzanne Berger, the county's deputy director of human resources, withdrew her request for the sewer extension the day after The Baltimore Sun wrote about the council's vote to put the deal on hold.

The county released the letter in which Berger withdrew her request and other documents in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request from The Baltimore Sun.

"We have decided to withdraw our petition and continue pumping our septic system once to twice a month, as we have been doing for years," Berger and her husband, Peter, wrote in the letter dated March 22.

Berger declined, through a county spokeswoman, a request for an interview.

Berger had reported to county officials that the septic system on the property on Delight Road in Reisterstown was failing and that the ground could not handle a replacement septic system, according to the documents.

County officials proposed extending a sewer line to the property at a cost of $267,321.50. Seventy-two percent, or $193,706.47, would be paid by the county, and $73,615.03 would be paid by the Bergers. Officials noted in a fiscal summary of the project that it would resolve a "significant health problem."

The council initially voted unanimously to approve the proposal. Several council members said later that they were not told the project was to benefit a county employee.

Officials from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration told only Councilman Julian Jones, who represents the area where the property is located, that the property belonged to Berger, a county spokesman said. Neither the bill itself nor the fiscal summary includes the name of the property owner.

Jones said in an interview that he believes the sewer extension proposal was "done by the book."

Council Chairman Tom Quirk said he learned the sewer extension was for Berger only during the council meeting at which members voted.

He said an employee from the county auditor's office notified him during the meeting the property belonged to Berger. After the meeting was adjourned, council members huddled in a hallway to discuss the issue, Quirk said.

They agreed to resume their meeting, then voted to undo their approval of the sewer extension and tabled it.

After the vote, Kamenetz said through a spokeswoman that he was not aware of the details of the project and requested a "complete briefing before deciding whether or not to move forward."

That briefing was not necessary once the Bergers withdrew their request, officials said.

pwood@baltsun.com

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