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Residents ask comptroller about fees, treatment plant

THE BALTIMORE SUN

County Comptroller Gene Curfman met his largest and possibly most vocal audience in South Carroll on Monday night as he tried to explain the rationale for a proposed increase in water and sewer fees to pay for a $13.5 million treatment plant at Piney Run Reservoir and other improvements to existing systems.

In one of a series of five information sessions, about 50 residents questioned Curfman on growth, the proposed Piney Run treatment plant, water quality and several issues that do not fall within the comptroller's purview.

Curfman told residents that he deals with the financing of projects. But a decision by Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier to build a plant on Piney Run Lake in Sykesville generated the most comments from those meeting at Liberty High School in Eldersburg.

"Your comments on Piney Run should be made at the public hearing on that project," said Curfman, who was at the meeting to tell residents how the county plans to pay for the project with increased hook-up and maintenance fees for using the public water supply.

Maintenance fees - $1.83 per foot of road frontage - will be phased in beginning for some customers as soon as July 1. The cost will be paid annually with the property tax bill.

Water connection fees will increase by $1,000 and sewer connections fees by nearly $700 in South Carroll. As a result, the connection charge for a home on public utilities will rise to $9,862.

The fees will also pay for upgrading water and sewer systems. The proposed plant is the most expensive item on the county's $22 million list of utility improvements.

Some residents took issue with paying for a plant before it is built.

Brian Rice of Eldersburg said the procedure amounts to "taxing us early." He said the plant's 2004 opening date is optimistic because the state has not issued permits for the plant and the county has not budgeted the project. "If you don't get state permits, what will you do with my money?" Rice said.

Collecting fees will ensure that the county will not have to borrow for construction projects, Curfman said.

The county expects to use the Piney Run plant to supplement water from Liberty Reservoir.

A treatment plant draws 3 million gallons a day from Liberty Reservoir and serves about 6,700 homes and businesses in South Carroll. It has been burdened in times of drought and high demand. The Piney Run plant, which could treat up to 3 million gallons of water a day, would ease summer shortages in the county's most populated area.

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