WSSC called 'dysfunctional'; no solution offered; Panel to send state study of water, sewer company


LAUREL -- The task force that spent a year and $400,000 studying the best way to run the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission became Exhibit A yesterday in how not to do it.

The 15-member panel of Prince George's and Montgomery County officials agreed that the management of the nation's seventh-largest water and sewer company is "dysfunctional," but stopped short of offering a solution.

Instead, it voted to send its report to the state legislature and urged the creation of another bi-county group to continue the study.

"I think this is an example of why [WSSC] governance doesn't work," said task force co-chairman Kevin Maloney of Montgomery County, a supporter of selling the utility.

Del. Rushern L. Baker III, a Prince George's task force member, agreed.

"The legislature is going to look at this report and ask if we didn't waste our time," said Baker, a Democrat and chairman of his county's House delegation. "The task force should have narrowed the options. That was our job, and we didn't do it."

WSSC, which serves 1.6 million customers in the two counties, is a unique utility in Maryland.

The commission was authorized by the state legislature in 1918 and is run by six commissioners -- three from each county -- appointed by their respective county executives.

The two counties and their commissioners are frequently at odds, and 3-3 deadlocks are not unusual.

Critics note that 40 of the utility's 1,900 employees make more than $100,000 a year.

Talk of selling WSSC grew louder this year, when consultants estimated it was worth $3 billion. After paying off $1 billion in debt, each county might see a $1 billion profit.

Maloney, Baker and others on the task force said they are pinning their hopes on strong action by Prince George's Executive Wayne K. Curry and Montgomery Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

"It's critical that the county executives weigh in," Baker said. "The legislature is not going to move forward without them."

Pub Date: 9/14/99

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