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Cecil County Exec Asks to Study County Water/Sewer Authority

March 27, 2013
By Nancy Schwerzler

Cecil County Executive Tari Moore is proposing exploration of possible creation of a county-led authority to oversee and operate key infrastructure in the county that is currently fragmented among county, municipal and private water and sewer operations, according to a new county budget proposal.

Basic water and sewer infrastructure in Cecil County has been a longstanding bone of contention and an obstacle to economic development, with key business areas such as the Route 40/Interstate 95 growth corridor lacking in basic water and sewer infrastructure to attract business.

In her new Fiscal 2014 budget proposal, County Executive Tari Moore has proposed a modest $30,000 allocation to begin studies of a possible county authority—similar to that of Harford County and other area jurisdictions. (Comparable proposals were floated a decade ago in Cecil County but never gained political traction.)

During a budget “workshop” on Tuesday, Al Wein, the county Director of Administration, told the County Council that Moore was interested in exploring new options to operate key county infrastructure. “It’s a placeholder,” Wein told Cecil Times, “to do information gathering.” The budget allocation would likely be used to hire a consultant to explore the pros and cons of creating such an authority to co-ordinate the current fragmented infrastructure services and see where co-ordination might enhance services in the county.

Moore told Cecil Times that the possible county Authority would “take the political aspects out of the equation.”

A political majority of the former county Board of Commissioners refused to raise county water and sewer rates to match the costs of providing services, with the end result that taxpayers countywide ended up having to subsidize the costs of water and sewer services in the more urbanized areas, even if rural residents did not benefit from such services.

However, in her new budget proposal, Moore proposed significant, phased-in increases in fees for water and sewer services provided by the county through so-called “enterprise funds.” Those funds are supposed to be self-supporting from fees paid by users of the services without subsidies from other county residents who do not benefit from the water/sewer operations.

The new budget’s proposed request for funds to study a possible county Authority would primarily focus on wastewater/sewer operations, county officials said, because the county sold off most of its water operations to the private Artesian Resources firm. But the county’s towns operate their own water and sewer operations that would need to be consulted, county sources said, for possible inclusion in a countywide water/sewer Authority.

Whatever options might result from such a study, Moore said that they must be “self-supporting,” so that users of the services pay the costs without dumping costs on other county residents who do not benefit from such services.

“That would not be fair,” she said, if non-users of such systems were forced to pay for services they did not receive.

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