The town of Manchester is asking the Maryland Department of the Environment for a refund of $7,937 town officials believe was overpaid in state sludge-generation fees in 1990 and 1991.
Town Manager Terry L. Short said Friday the town has employed its former clerk-treasurer, Paul Kolar, as a consultant to investigate the overpayment and others that may have been made in recent years.
"What we're looking into amounts to a lot of money," Mr. Short said. "This [the $7,937] is chicken feed" by comparison.
He would not elaborate, except to say that no wrongdoing is suspected.
"We're just looking into things that we think were mistakes or oversights," he said.
Mr. Kolar wrote to the state Nov. 29 to request the sludge fee refund.
Mr. Short said that if the state returns the money, "it's probably going to mean that we're going to be able to pay the bills this year" to keep the sewer fund in the black.
He said state officials have told Mr. Kolar that they did not believe there would be a problem with refunding the money.
Mr. Short said the state, which regulates sludge plants, charges the town a fee of 95 cents for each ton of sludge generated. The sludge is disposed of in the county landfill.
Most of the overpayment can be traced to the town's purchase of a sludge press in 1990, he said.
The press squeezes most of the liquid from the sludge, greatly reducing its weight. However, the town did not adjust its payments to the state to reflect the reduction in the sludge's weight.
Mr. Short said the town reported to the state it had disposed of 7,122 tons of sludge in 1991, but that the correct figure, after pressing, was 242 tons.
He said a small part of the overcharge occurred because some figures reported to the state had incorrectly included the weight of regular trash from the town wastewater treatment plant along with the weight of the sludge.
The refund requested was for $1,402 from 1990 and $6,535 from 1991.
He said the problem was detected in July 1993, when the annual bill covering sludge produced in 1992 arrived at the town hall.
"That's when we figured out there was probably a problem," he said.
Mr. Short said he used the amount the town paid in 1990 and 1991 to project future payments, and came up with "astronomical" sums.
"That didn't make any sense," he said.
"I can't really say anybody was to blame," Manchester Mayor Earl A. J. "Tim" Warehime Jr. said Friday.
Mr. Warehime said the people who run the sewage treatment plant do not deal with invoices from the state, and the office staff who handles the invoices may not be familiar with all the processes at the sewage treatment plant.