Bulk water users in Harford County, and potentially many county residents, will see a gradual increase in usage rates over the next four years, instead of the immediate, large increase originally sought by the county administration.
The Harford County Council unanimously approved an amended bill Tuesday that will try to lessen the impact of a new wholesale water rate fee schedule by phasing in a use, and capital recovery, rate of $1.94 per 1,000 gallons for fiscal year 2013, $2.82 per 1,000 gallons in 2014, $3.70 per 1,00 gallons in 2015, $4.58 per 1,000 gallons in 2016 and, starting July 1, 2017, a capital recovery rate that is adjusted annually to correspond with system development fees as set by county code.
The original proposal was to raise the amount wholesale customers would pay from $2.83 per 1,000 gallons to $4.72 per thousand gallons to be adjusted annually.
"In order to make this more palatable to the community and the users of the system, we decided to bring this back as a phase-in for the capital portion of the wholesale rate," public works director Bob Cooper told the council Tuesday.
"It would take us through the time period we would actually be doing our study for the water and sewer rates," Cooper said.
Legislative liaison Nancy Giorno added: "This is more in keeping with the way we did the [landfill] tipping fee bill."
Council President Billy Boniface, who had expressed concern during an earlier hearing that the water rate hike would trickle down to the general public, said he is happy with the proposal at least for the short term.
Boniface said he still wants to see a more comprehensive review of the water and sewer rates eventually.
"One of the biggest points is, rather than just an overall increase, you have to show justification for it," Boniface said about tying the bill to system development fees and infrastructure needs.
Cooper noted: "We would still be the lowest county in the state [as far as rates]."
Boniface thanked county officials for addressing his concerns on the bill.
"I think phasing this in over four years will be beneficial during these difficult times," he said, explaining most of the council members do not agree with sudden rate increases.
"I realize we have fallen behind because we have not dealt with this in a more comprehensive manner. Hopefully we will do this in the future," he said.
Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti also praised revisions to the county's enhanced nutrient removal fee, a bill that parallels the changes in the bulk water fees.
"I really think this is the right way to go," she said.
Animal shelter, personal care zoning
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the council approved bills creating a new zoning classification for animal shelters, as opposed to commercial shelters, and allowing personal care boarding homes to be a permitted use in a B3 business district.
Several caregivers and their supporters spoke at the hearing to urge the council to pass the boarding home bill.
Councilman Dion Guthrie said a boarding home is very similar to a nursing home, and provides care to at least three adults.
Dale Gross, of Aberdeen, said her father was in a personal care boarding home that served him well.
"This bill will allow my B3 property to be used for a personal care boarding home," she said. "Since my father's passing, it has been my dream to operate and own a facility of this nature."
Two people also testified about the animal shelter zoning designation.
Mary Leavens, executive director of the Humane Society of Harford County, said it is crucial in the center's efforts to expand and continue its services of caring for about 4,500 animals each year at its Connolly Road location in Fallston since 1947.
Meeting room monitors
Also at the meeting, the council unveiled seven new flat-screen monitors around the dais. Council administrator Pamela Meister said they were purchased for less than $25,000 and will allow everyone in the room to better see presentations being made.
Council members gave approval for Ted Pibil to continue serving as acting director of the Information Communication and Technology Office for up to four more months.
The council appointed Kimberly Parks-Bourn and re-appointed Jonita Shoaff to the Commission for Women.
The council announced DeMolay Month in honor of the Bel Air chapter of DeMolay, a leadership organization for boys and young men ages 12 to 21.
The council heard from Jack Feldman, of Bel Air, on the need for more support for handicapped employees, as well as greater recognition of Harford Transit for its support of the handicapped and recognition for the late Maurice Klein, founder of the business that became Klein's ShopRite, for his contributions to the community.