xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Havre de Grace leaders urge voters to be informed on $15 million bond issue going into Feb. 4 special election

Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin displays Tuesday a poster-size version of the ballot question city voters will decide on when they go to the polls during a Feb. 4 special election, whether or not to give the city approval to borrow millions in bond funding to repair aging water and sewer infrastructure.
Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin displays Tuesday a poster-size version of the ballot question city voters will decide on when they go to the polls during a Feb. 4 special election, whether or not to give the city approval to borrow millions in bond funding to repair aging water and sewer infrastructure. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Havre de Grace voters will be asked, in the upcoming Feb. 4 special election, to give the city government permission to issue up to $15 million in bonds upon its “full faith, credit and unlimited taxing power” and use that borrowed money to finance repairs of aging water and sewer infrastructure.

The phrase “unlimited taxing power” has created controversy among Havre de Grace residents on social media recently, according to city leaders. Mayor William T. Martin emphasized that voters will not be giving the city authority to increase their tax rates should they vote in favor of the bond issue.

Advertisement

“We already have unlimited taxing power,” Martin said in a presentation on the referendum during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, noting “this exact verbiage” was also part of two prior bond referendums.

“We can’t mortgage City Hall and take a loan for collateral,” the mayor said. “This is our collateral — unlimited taxing power — it means we’ll pay the loan back.”

The city will borrow up to $15 million over five years and repay it, at no more than 4% interest, over 25 years, according to the ballot question. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 4, in Havre de Grace City Hall at 711 Pennington Ave.

Martin, who has spoken about the bond referendum before, gave details Tuesday on how Havre de Grace has grown out from the downtown area since 1900 and that some of the water and sewer lines laid down to support that growth date back 120 years.

The most recent development, happening in the 21st Century, has occurred on the city’s west side with communities such as Bulle Rock, Scenic Manor, Greenway Farms and Havre de Hills — more homebuilding is anticipated in Bulle Rock and Greenway Farms.

The water and sewer lines, regardless of their age and when a person’s house was built, are “all part of the same circulatory system,” according to the mayor. People who live in communities “up the hill,” such as Bulle Rock and Meadowvale, depend on working infrastructure to pump and transport drinking water from the downtown treatment plant to their residences, Martin said.

Housing construction has picked up in the past five years, generating enough revenue from water and sewer hookup fees to the point that Martin’s administration could remove the $25 quarterly debt service fee imposed on customers when he first took office in 2015. That fee was helping the city create revenue it could put toward paying down the $2 million-per-year debt it owed on a loan it took out to upgrade the municipal wastewater treatment plant.

The city is scheduled to repay that debt through 2028, according to Finance Director George DeHority.

“That’s taken care of,” Martin said. “That was a big problem that was haunting us for a long time, making that debt payment.”

A $30 quarterly infrastructure replacement fee has been charged to city water and sewer customers since the current fiscal year began July 1, 2019. The revenue generated by that fee, which city officials estimate will be about $900,000 each year, will go toward repaying bond funds borrowed to repair infrastructure — pending voter approval of the bond issue Feb. 4.

The municipal infrastructure should be fixed within 10 years, “hopefully for a couple of generations,” Martin said. He emphasized that water bills will not increase if the bond measure passes next month.

“We would still have to address the same issues, probably more sharply,” if it does not pass, Martin said.

“This is important to me; I’m not just the mayor of Havre de Grace, I’m your neighbor,” said Martin, who noted he will have the same water bill when he is out of office.

He praised those who have called City Hall to ask questions in recent days, even questions spurred by rumors on social media. He also encouraged people to visit the city website and read a Q and A page, which officials update as new questions are raised.

Advertisement

“Be informed,” Martin said. “We want a lot of people to show up Feb. 4 and vote, and vote with an informed mind and vote with your heart.”

City Council members Casi Boyer and James Ringsaker encouraged residents to vote in favor of the bond issue. Ringsaker said that, “100%, I’ll be voting yes.”

“If we don’t — this isn’t a threat — you’re going to see your water bill go up,” he added. “That’s the only way we can do it.”

Boyer said she does not want to pass the expenses of repairing infrastructure onto her children or grandchildren. She said she “would love” to talk with anyone who has questions.

“The buck stops with me when it comes to taking care of my family and my community, and I am 100% in support of this bond bill,” Boyer said.

Council president apology

Council President David Glenn reiterated an apology he made via email earlier this month to the members of the Harford County Council after taking them to task during a Jan. 6 City Council meeting for not taking action on a resolution from the city that would allow Havre de Grace to use a county-owned line to send drinking water to Aberdeen.

Some of the money that would be borrowed from the bond market would go toward building a new water line between the two cities. Havre de Grace officials sought approval from Harford County to use the county’s line until the municipal line is built.

Glenn said he has learned, since the Jan. 6 City Council meeting, that the County Council never received the resolution. He issued an apology to County Council members via email Jan. 10 and reiterated it verbally during the City Council meeting Tuesday evening.

“With that being said, what I can’t apologize for is the passion that I have for the residents that I represent,” Glenn said Tuesday.

He said he is willing to go to bat for people in Havre de Grace, on issues such as new equipment for first responders, protecting University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital downtown, building a replacement facility for Havre de Grace Middle School and High School, or constructing a water line to Aberdeen.

Glenn said the County Council has since received a copy of the city’s resolution, and he urged all parties involved to work together as a team to find a solution — he emphasized “team” as an acronym meaning “Together Everyone Achieves More.”

“We look forward to hearing from our Harford County counterparts,” he said. “Failure to not give this resolution favorable consideration and to find a viable solution would truly be an opportunity lost.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement