Water and sewer fees would rise for the first time in a decade, and the price of new public utility connections would more than double under a proposal by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

Quarterly water and sewer rates would increase 19.25 percent for all homeowners and businesses on the county's public water and sewer system under a Rehrmann proposal before the County Council.

The big increase is being proposed to keep pace with rapid residential growth and to offset a projected budget shortfall in the water-sewer fund, county officials say.

A typical Harford County quarterly bill would rise $13.48, to $83.48. The average quarterly tab in the Joppatowne Sanitary District would increase $14.44, to $89.44.

The increases would be the first since 1981 for Harford as a whole and the first since 1976 for Joppatowne.

County Treasurer James M. Jewell said the rate increases would generate $727,000 in new money, erasing a deficit in the budget for day-to-day operation and maintenance of water treatment plants.

Jewell said the county had managed to avoid increases despite deficits since 1986 by relying on surplusesgenerated in the early 1980s.

"We've been living year-to-year on surpluses to balance the bottom line, but the surpluses have run out,and we had no choice but to raise the fees," Jewell said.

Only two residents testified on the proposed increase at a public hearing before the County Council Tuesday night. Both opposed the measures.

The council must vote on the proposed fee increases, part of Rehrmann's $174.6 million operating budget, by May 28.

One resident asked at Tuesday's meeting why he pays water and sewer fees five times as high as those levied in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

Jewellresponded that Harford must charge more because of the high cost of paying off long-term loans for water treatment projects undertaken tokeep pace with the county's rapid growth.

Meanwhile, developers also will soon bear the price of more growth in steep increases in water and sewer hookup fees for new homes.

Water and sewer hookup fees, which now run $1,650 for a typical single-family home, would rise by $2,000 to $3,000, Jewell said.

Public works and budget officials have yet to determine the final increase but hope to send the proposal to the County Council within the next two weeks.

The increase is needed to help foot the bill for up to $100 million in water and sewage construction and expansion projects to keep pace with expected residential growth, Jewell said.

The most expensive of several projects, expanding the Havre de Grace water treatment plant to increaseits 10 million gallon daily capacity by at least 6 million gallons within the next two to five years, will cost at least $20 million, Jewell said.

"Someone's got to pay for all this new growth, and you've got to plan it two to three years down the road," Jewell said.

"Otherwise, you hit that magic moment where you can't take one more single building permit because your water and sewer system can't handleit.

"Nobody wants that."

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