Friday, June 06, 2003

Water rate hike not flowing well in Frostburg City's commissioners split over proposed increase

Michael A. Sawyers
Times-News Staffwriter

FROSTBURG — Calling Frostburg’s proposed water rate increases excessive, Water Commissioner Tom Reed said Thursday that he would oppose them when they are voted on at Wednesday public meeting of the mayor and city council.

Reed’s comments came during a water rates work session Thursday afternoon and were repeated an hour later during a public hearing concerning proposed new rates of $3.30 per 1,000 gallons for in-town users and $4.52 per 1,000 gallons for out-of-town users of city water.

Reed blamed the effort to create the new rates on the privatization of the city’s water treatment plant. Within the past two years, the city stopped running the plan in-house and hired Maryland Environmental Services
to operate the facility.

“We are paying $70,000 more in salaries now, even with one less person working at the plant,” Reed said, adding that a staff of four was reduced to three. “There is very big overhead. The people who run the plant might sit here and tell us they are nonprofit, but they are making big bucks. We need to look real strong at what we are doing there.”

Reed said he believes that the city would have to raise water rates some, but not as much as is being proposed if the municipality would continue to operate the water treatment plant in-house. “We should produce the best water we can at the lowest price,” he said.

Public Works Commissioner Susan Keller suggested that there are some unseen savings because of the privatization, the result of the city administrator not having to spend as much time dealing with matters
relating to the plant.

Finance Commissioner Robin Gorrell and Public Works Commissioner John Ralston favor the proposed rates, calling them a starting point to balance the water budget as required.

Gorrell said if it is discovered that the city is making money because of the new rates that they will be lowered, a statement Frostburg resident Bernard Miltenberger told her he did not believe.

Lisa Griffith, a water user from Carlos, said she would have no problem with paying a little more and no problem with paying more than in-town users, but objected to the amount of the increase, which she said amounted to 73 percent.

Griffith questioned, too, the city’s system that charged users of large amounts of water a higher rate. “That’s not good economic development for Frostburg when they find out our water rates,” she said.

Dru Schriner of Grahamtown said she has been complaining for 15 to 17 years about “ridiculous” water rates charged outlying communities.

“You don’t realize what that takes out of someone living on a Social Security check day to day,” she said. “The elderly, poor people in the county can’t afford these rates.”

Rita Davis told the city officials she is a new resident of Eckhart. “I have lived in Nevada, California, New York, Connecticut and Virginia and have never seen that type of a water rate,” Davis said, addressing a current rate of more than $5 per 1,000 gallons. Davis said she did not mind paying her fair share, but called the current and proposed rates too high.

Miltenberger said petitions are currently circulating and will be taken to the Allegany County commissioners who will be asked to petition the Maryland Public Service Commission to investigate the rates. Allegany County purchases water from  Frostburg and then sells it to outlying
communities.