Harford council narrowly passes water and sewer rate increases

Despite sharp disagreement among its members, the Harford County Council approved legislation increasing water and sewer user rates Tuesday evening.

Council President Billy Boniface and Councilmen Jim McMahan and Joseph Woods voted against an amended rate bill, but with the other four members voting for it, the measure passed.

During the meeting, an amendment was also approved changing the effective date of the rates from immediately to July 1, 2012, in accordance with residential sprinkler legislation approved late last year.

The legislation was originally sponsored by Boniface and Harford County Executive David Craig, but Boniface announced at the January council meeting he was withdrawing his support and wanted a more comprehensive look at the rate structure.

Boniface repeated those concerns Tuesday, as did McMahan, who said he was not satisfied that the charges were "well thought out." Boniface said he didn't think rate increases should be based on the consumer price index.

Councilman Richard Slutzky said he understood Boniface's concerns, but added he was willing to trust the judgment of people "who do water and sewer every day."

Under the legislation passed Tuesday, base charges for water for a 5/8-inch residential meter connection will increase from $4.10 to $6.04 a quarter, with the usage rate per $1,000 gallons increasing from $1.65 to $2.43. The usage rate over 32,000 gallons a quarter will increase from $2.05 per 1,000 gallons to $3.04.

The base sewer quarterly charge for a residential 5/8-inch water meter will increase from $3.80 to $5.61, while the sewer usage rate per $1,000 gallons will increase from $2.10 to $3.09. The excess usage rate over 32,000 gallons will increase from $2.50 per 1,000 gallons to $3.69.

At the earlier meeting, Boniface said he was opposed to the fire readiness surcharge, which he said the administration wanted to increase in relation to the sprinkler legislation recently passed that mandates sprinklers in new buildings.

Although delaying the bill would put the county at a disadvantage, Boniface said, it would not affect them for at least the next year.

"I think the way you look at this is antiquated and it needs to be looked at across the board," he said.

Personnel changes

Council members also approved a personnel bill that Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said governs interactions with county government employees. One of the changes in the bill is amendment 19, Lisanti added, which says the county will pay the difference between an employee's county rate of pay and what they receive for active military service.

Councilman Chad Shrodes commented on that particular amendment, calling it "big" and "bold."

"I think it's the right thing," he added.

Other business

Members also approved two letters announced by Boniface, including one that would support partial voting rights for the student representative on the Harford County Board of Education.

Student Representative Anthony Cofrancesco and Bel Air High School Student Government Association President Christina McIntyre were at the meeting to discuss their goal of reaching partial voting rights for students on the board.

McMahan praised the two students, thanking them for their efforts, as did Shrodes, who called it a "historic" and "very important" moment for all students in the county.

Any such change would still have to be approved via state legislation. In the past, extending voting rights to the student school board representative has met with resistance from Harford's state senators.

The second letter approved was a letter of engagement allowing special audits if a department head leaves a department.

Upcoming meeting

The next council meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m., with a public hearing on the proposed livability code (Please see story, Page A8) at 6:30 p.m. in the council chambers.

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