TANEYTOWN - When it rains here, it pours -- right into the tanks of the city's sewage treatment plant.

A day of heavy rain can take the aging 36-year-old plant to its limits, filling the 700,000-gallon system with more than 300,000 gallons of rainwater.

Up to now, the extra water has proved to be little more than a nuisance to city officials. But in the near future, it could become one gigantic headache.

"With the way it is now, if we were to get any more growth, we could run out of room," said City Manager Neal W. Powell.

Add the extra water pumped through the system to the 400,000 gallons of sewage treated by it every day.

To help give the plant breathing room, the city is expected to spend close to $300,000 between now and spring to modernize parts of the system's extensive network of pipelines.

"This gives us some time," Powell said. "It'll give us some room until our next expansion."

That expansion -- expected to cost $2 million -- is slated for early 1994.

The original sewage treatment plant was built in 1954 at a cost of $625,000, and is being paid for with a 40-year bond. The plant was first upgraded in 1972 at a cost of $144,000. The plant was last upgraded and expanded in 1984 for $1.3 million.

While development pressures here have slowed somewhat in the last six months, city and county planning officials are trying to keep ahead of growth. And one of those ways is to make sure the city's sewage treatment plant can handle any new growth that comes along.

"Having enough sewage is very important," said Barbara C. Moser, a county planner. "You should not approve development plans if the capacity is not there."

At 700,000 gallons a day, the plant here has plenty of room for the 3,517 residents it serves. But with close to 1,000 new homes already on the planning books, there won't be room for long.

Powell said simply keeping the rainwater out will give the plant enough room to handle those new homes before having to expand it.

Expansion, however, is considered inevitable.

The county's water and sewage master plan calls for nearly 8,200 people to eventually live in and around this northwestern city. And those people are expected to generate a total of 1.03 million gallons of sewage a day.

"A way of looking at it is that without enough sewage, you don't get any more development," Moser said.

And without development, the city doesn't get any money to pay for the sewage treatment plant.

When a new home is built here, a developer is charged more than $6,000 in fees that go to the benefit assessment fund used to pay for operating, maintaining and expanding the plant.

Taneytown has one of the eight sewage treatment systems in Carroll County that together treat 7.2 million gallons a day. Current expansions at three of them are going to push that total to nearly 11.2 million gallons a day.

And while only about 32 percent of Carroll's households are connected to public sewage systems, just about all homes in Taneytown use the city's plant.

The plant here has been relatively inexpensive to upgrade because of the city's benefit assessment fund, Powell said.

"We let the people who impact the system pay for it," he said. "As more people move in here, they pay for the larger amounts of water, sewage and services they need."

When the city's plant undergoes an expansion three years from now, it will become the fourth expansion in less than 10 years.

In Westminster -- the only municipality that allows residential hook-ups from outside its boundaries -- the plant's capacity is being increased from 3 million to 5 million gallons a day.

An $11 million expansion in Manchester will double the sewage plant capacity there to 500,000 gallons a day, while the county's Freedom District sewage plant is going from 1.8 million to 3.5 million gallons a day.

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