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Water, sewer rates to rise

The Baltimore Sun

Soaring fuel prices and electricity rates contributed to the 12 percent increase in Carroll County's minimum combined water and sewer rates that were approved by the board of commissioners Thursday, officials said.

The new rates go into effect July 1.

The base quarterly rates have risen from $7.64 to $8.23 for water and from $10.06 to $11.61 for sewer services, according to county statistics.

A utilities enterprise fund -- separate from the county budget -- has $20 million in it for next year, a 5.4 percent increase over this year, to cover the county's water and sewer operating costs and capital projects, financed in part by connection fees and the increased rates.

Of that $20 million, a majority of the $11.3 million in the capital budget for fiscal year 2008 will fund the upgrade and expansion of the Freedom District Water Treatment Plant.

A second treatment plant is being built that will double the amount of water that the Eldersburg-area system can handle when it opens by February 2009.

The plant's water treatment capacity is expected to climb from 3 million gallons a day to a total of 7 million gallons a day, officials said.

With the rising costs of electricity to power the plants and the chemicals to treat the water, county officials said some of that burden had to be passed on to customers.

"The cost of doing business is going up, and we have to deal with that," County Public Works Director J. Michael Evans said. "You can't be too conservative with water: You have to treat it."

Renegotiating how much Carroll County pays for services at the South Carroll Wastewater Treatment Plant could potentially reign in water and sewer rates in the future, Evans said.

The quasi-governmental Maryland Environmental Service operates the wastewater treatment plant, which services Springfield Hospital Center, the state police training facility and other state buildings in Sykesville, in addition to about 6,500 Freedom area customers.

At its peak, Springfield Hospital was once the plant's biggest user before Eldersburg grew. But now the county foots 87 percent of the operating costs, Evans said.

"The distribution may be off, and we need to verify that," Evans said.

Before the water and sewer rates are recalculated for fiscal year 2009, the Freedom sewer meters will be inspected to ensure the county isn't paying more than its fair share, he said.

Future water conservation efforts in the county shouldn't noticeably alter these utility rates, officials said.

Even if county residents cut their water consumption in half, some 80 percent of the costs incurred by treatment plants to maintain the lines and the facilities will stay the same, said Sheree Lima, financial manager for the public works department.

"You'd still have to provide water 24-7 so that doesn't do anything to reduce manpower costs," Evans added.

Evans said he was surprised that a county resident spoke in favor of the water and sewer increases at the recent public hearing on the commissioners' proposed budget, which was adopted May 22.

The quarterly water/sewer bill for a Carroll County household -- which consumes about 24,000 gallons of water during that period -- will increase about 6.2 percent, according to county statistics.

A family that pays $247.60 per quarter will see their bill rise by $15.20 per quarter, county officials said.

The more water and sewer capacity a customer uses, the lower the overall percentage of the rate increase.

Residences that use 40,000 gallons per quarter would see their combined bill increase by 3.41 percent, from $426.50 to $441.04.

County officials said the cost of water and sewer connections will remain constant next year.

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