About 100 residents of Whiteford and Cardiff are learning a hard fact about getting public sewers in their community: It's going to cost them all a lot of money.
Residents of the two north Harford County towns and their environs have been dealing with poor or inadequate septic systems, cesspools and a system of underground slate-lined ditches for decades.
Raw sewage sometimes runs through the towns' Main Street. Raw sewage also is polluting nearby Scott Creek.
At best, the least expensive deal for getting public sewers would cost each property owner $1,300 a year for 30 years, said Hayden J. Anthony, a management assistant with the Harford County department of water and sewers.
Mr. Anthony and other county officials spoke at a meeting Thursday night at North Harford High School on plans for a sewage treatment plant.
That includes $860 a year in construction costs and $440 a year in operating costs.
County Councilman Barry T. Glassman, who represents the area, said he is studying a way to help lower those costs and might introduce emergency legislation at Tuesday's council meeting.
"The cost is always a big concern," said Jim Meister of nearby Delta, Pa., who owns property in Whiteford. "How it's going to hit your wallet?"
Harford officials are attempting to persuade Whiteford and Cardiff residents to approve a plan to help Delta build a sewage treatment plant and have everyone connect to it.
Maryland's share of the cost would be $5.9 million.
Delta residents, who share a Main Street with Cardiff and Whiteford along with a rich history of slate mining, are going ahead with their plans to build a sewage treatment plant, one way or another, because the Pennsylvania state government is requiring it. If Maryland joins in, the plant's size will be doubled.
In Whiteford and Cardiff, 207 property owners would be required to connect to the treatment plant.
The turnout Thursday was much larger than at earlier meetings on the sewer project, said Mr. Anthony, whose job it is to attempt to secure federal funding for the project.
Harford officials plan another public meeting next month.
By that time, they hope to have word from federal officials on how much money they will be granted, if any.
In October, officials will send ballots to property owners detailing exact costs and asking them to indicate their preferences. An unreturned ballot will be counted as a no, said Mr. Anthony.
Once the ballots are counted, the County Council will be asked to approve the project.
Council President Joanne S. Parrott said earlier that the council would like about 60 percent of the residents to give their approval.
However, even if a majority of residents do not support the project, the County Council could approve it anyway, because of the threat to public health posed by raw sewage dribbling through the towns' sewers and gutters.
"I think the majority of the people who have any wattage know we need sewers," said Cardiff resident George Meyn, who was at the meeting Thursday. "They're just concerned about the high cost."
Mr. Meyn said he supports the project, even though it will be costly, because he fears the alternatives would be worse.
For instance, Delta residents could sue the Marylanders for polluting Scott Creek, or county, state or federal officials could require expensive individual sewer systems for each homeowner.
"We're going to get sewerage of some kind," said Mr. Meyn. "They're not going to let this continue"
Mr. Meyn said that even people who are resigned to getting the new sewer system, including him, are not overjoyed by the prospect of paying high costs for 30 years.
Already, he said, people in the northern Harford towns feel they get little in services in exchange for their county taxes.
"There is a feeling up here that we've always paid top dollar for nothing," he said. "Now, we're getting something, and people feel they're probably going to stick it to us."
Mr. Glassman said he hopes to offer an emergency bill that would reduce the $440 annual operating fee for the sewer system to less than $100, with the county picking up the difference.
"I don't know if that $440 is really fair," the councilman said. "In the Bel Air area, it's about $50."
Of the meeting Thursday, Mr. Glassman said, "The sense I got is most people are for it, but they're still concerned if it's affordable."