According to a report from the Public Works Utilities Division in Allegany County, water and sewer rates for county residents will increase over time due to federal and state regulations, and the increased debt associated with meeting those requirements. Other increases may be caused by infrastructure replacement and upgrades, water purchase costs and county takeovers of failing water systems. No increases are projected for FY 2012 but it will not be possible to hold rate steady moving forward. Based on a story in the Cumberland Times, at a meeting of the county commissioners, Commission President Michael Mckay stated:
“Federal and state mandates … will require major substantial wastewater rate increases in the near future for increased debt,” the report states. Commission President Michael McKay said commissioners will do what they can to minimize the impact of rate increases and most importantly, keep the public informed of rate increase plans so “we don’t have another situation like we did at Georges Creek.”
McKay was referring to the surprise ratepayers in Georges Creek received more than a year ago when their bills jumped dramatically with what area residents said was little public discussion of the rate increase plans. McKay, along with Commissioners Bill Valentine and Creade Brodie Jr., after their election in late 2010, voted to conduct a series of meetings with Georges Creek residents to reconsider payment options on the loan to replace the water treatment plant. At least the bitter pill for Georges Creek residents, many of which pay more than $1,000 a year in sewer bills, is a known factor. Future rate increases are an unknown and depend on the economy, costs and interest rates. “We don’t know what kind of repair and maintenence we will have going forward,” McKay said.
Pursuit of a county-owned water treatment plant could provide at least some relief or mitigation of water costs to county customers, according to the report. A study is under way for a Potomac River Water Treatment plant. A recent study concluded a water treatment plant on the Potomac is feasible. It would allow the county to draw more water from the river than the 2 million gallons per month it can currently purchase from the city of Cumberland without paying a significant surcharge for extra water, Mark Yoder, the county’s utility division chief, has said.