Harford council head questions new water and sewer rate schedule

Harford County Council President Billy Boniface said he pulled his support of a new water and sewer billing schedule because he wants to see a more comprehensive review of the fee structure.

The measure was originally introduced Jan. 3 but tabled by the council, and on Jan. 17, when Boniface announced he was withdrawing his support of the bill, noting that Harford County Executive David Craig was a co-sponsor.

Boniface and Councilman Joe Woods originally expressed concern about a proposal to charge higher water rates to homes with sprinklers.

"I've gotten to an impasse that I don't think I'm going to get past," Boniface said at the Jan. 17 meeting. "It still has time to be moved on Feb. 7, so the county executive, if he still wants to do the bill… he's going to have to get support for this one."

Unless the council takes bill up for a vote at its next meeting this Tuesday evening, the bill will die for lack of action.

Boniface explained last week he was mainly concerned with the fire readiness surcharge.

"It pays capital debt regardless of whether it has anything to do with sprinklers or not," he said Jan. 26, referring to the recent legislation mandating sprinklers in new buildings.

"Last year alone it produced $600,000 in revenue," he said. "Let's call it what it is. I mean, it doesn't have anything to do with a fire readiness surcharge… We are still charging our residents today for a fire readiness charge, and I don't think it's a lot, I think it's $15. But it's still supporting $600,000. Why do we need that?"

Although that surcharge has long been around, "they want to increase it and they want to keep doing it," he said. "If that charge wasn't charged, the sprinkler would still go off and you would still get charged for the water you use. It doesn't have anything to do with fire safety."

"I firmly believe, with the county executive, that the water and sewer fund has to be self-sufficient and pay for itself; by law it has to be. We both agree on where it needs to be, I just don't agree with how to get there, the methodology of how they are putting in some of these terms and requirements," Boniface said.

Boniface said it was his understanding the county executive would be sending new legislation dealing with other issues in the water and sewer fund, an enterprise account where revenue comes mainly from water and sewer user fees.

"[Craig] wants to keep moving forward with this bill," he said. "The ideal situation, in my mind, is to step back and look at all the fees… It's just good business to have everything on the table in front of you rather than making a decision in pieces."

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