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Harford council considering bill to end Fallston sewer subdistrict

Fallston's Route 1 commercial corridor is shown last month looking west. Harford County is considering abolishing the area's 25-year-old sanitary sewer subdistrict, which county leaders say has served its purpose to fund infrastructure and is no longer needed.
Fallston's Route 1 commercial corridor is shown last month looking west. Harford County is considering abolishing the area's 25-year-old sanitary sewer subdistrict, which county leaders say has served its purpose to fund infrastructure and is no longer needed. (MATT BUTTON/THE AEGIS / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Legislation has been introduced before the Harford County Council to repeal the Fallston Commercial Corridor sanitary subdistrict, a sewer service area established in 1992, as the county government works to extend sewer service to Fallston neighborhoods with failing septic systems.

Bill 18-001 — the council’s first bill of 2018 — was introduced during the council’s legislative session Jan. 2. Council President Richard Slutzky introduced it at the request of Harford County Executive Barry Glassman’s administration. Councilman Joe Woods, who represents the Fallston area, is listed as a co-sponsor.

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A public hearing date has been set for Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air.

The Fallston Commercial Corridor subdistrict was created in 1992 by council legislation and expanded in 2004 and 2012, so property owners could have access to county sewer service, according to the legislation. Having a defined subdistrict gave the county a means to collect from only the affected property owners who benefited.

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The time period for property owners to pay off the “assessment” for new sewer infrastructure has ended, so “the purpose for this legislation has been satisfied and is no longer necessary in the [county] Code,” the bill states.

“Property owners in the Fallston Commercial Corridor sanitary subdistrict have paid in full the necessary assessments to fund the initial build out of infrastructure for sewer service in the district. Therefore, the subdistrict has served its purpose… ,” county administration spokesperson Cindy Mumby said via email after the bill was introduced.

“Once the subdistrict is abolished, ratepayers in the area will continue paying for sewer services, as do all other users of Harford County’s public sewer services,” Mumby said. “This includes any necessary rehabilitation of existing sewer infrastructure countywide.”

Mumby said the county will pursue both rehabbing the facilities in the existing service area and expanding service to areas that were outside the district boundaries, depending on whether those new areas request service under the county’s petition process.

She said the subdistrict could have been kept and expanded as needed but, while that was considered, the administration felt abolishing it made more sense.

“It was the only subdistrict in the county,” she said. The rest of the county receiving public sewer and water service, outside municipal boundaries, has long been treated as a single sanitary district.

Prior to the legislation’s introduction, the county conducted a study over the past two years of the existing subdistrict’s facilities, as well as what would be needed to provide service to areas that were included within the county’s designated growth area, known locally as the “development envelope.”

Results of the study, performed by the engineering firm Whitman Requardt & Associates of Baltimore, was released last month.

It recommends rehabilitation of existing sewer lines and pumping stations within the Fallston subdistrict at an estimated cost of $2.4 million.

Mumby said that work would be necessary and is not directly related to expanding service to other areas of Fallston. It would be funded through state and/or federal grants, developer contributions and revenue from customers of the system countywide, she said, “the same way we fund capital accounts for infrastructure countywide.”

The second part of the study estimated the county would need to spend $1 million to extend service to areas not in the existing subdistrict, but which are in the development envelope and eligible for service.

The draft study, a summary and related documents can be found at www.harfordcountymd.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=539.

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Those areas include most of the Woodridge Manor neighborhood off of Route 1 and Whitaker Mill Road, existing neighborhoods along Route 152 south of Harford Road and some undeveloped areas, also mainly along either Harford Road or Belair Road, according to county maps delineating the potential future service areas.

Woodridge Manor residents previously filed a petition to have service extended to their community, and several Woodridge Manor residents told county leaders last month they are dealing with costly repairs or replacements of their septic systems.

Those issues came up during a Dec. 18 meeting with Billy Boniface, Harford County’s director of administration, and Joseph Siemek, director of public works, at the Veronica Chenowith Activity Center in Fallston. Woods and Councilman Mike Perrone, who represents neighboring Joppa, also attended.

Boniface told the nearly 40 residents it could take six months to a year before a plan to expand sewer service is ready, but the county would begin work on developing one soon.

Approximately 100 residential properties would be affected in that community. Under county law, a majority of the property owners in an area requesting service would need to sign a petition. The County Council would also be required to approve the petition.

Any costs related to providing the service would be recouped through what are known as annual benefit assessments that typically run either 25 or 30 years and go with the property, regardless of ownership. If the county borrows money to fund such a project, the interest is also recovered through the benefit assessment. There also could be federal and state grants available to fund such projects.

Property owners would also be charged the standard residential connection free — $9,000 for sewer service only — and would pay a quarterly usage fee. Most homes in the Fallston area that could get sewer service in the future use private wells for their water supplies.

Assuming they continue to use their wells, residents who get public sewer only would pay a flat sewer rate of $105.07 per quarter, according to the county rate structure. Combined with miscellaneous charges for such things as enhanced nitrogen removal, sewer asset reinvestment charge and bay restoration fund, the sewer-only customer’s total quarterly bill would be $131.34, Mumby said.

New customers of the sewer system are also responsible for the cost of connecting their house to the sewer lines in the street, and for the cost of removing their existing septic systems.

A few properties in Woodridge Manor and Woodcrest that are zoned R2 residential as of August 2004 were included in the Fallston Commercial Corridor subdistrict, but others with lower zoning classifications were not, according to Bill 18-001. Mumby said the majority of the houses in Woodridge Manor are zoned RR, rural residential.

If the council approves the legislation, any new service proposed will also have to be included in a future update of the county Master Sewer and Water Plan, which is done each spring and fall, Mumby said.

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Aegis News Editor Allan Vought contributed to this report.

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