FACT CHECK: Sewer Rate Increases Go Off the Charts in Elkton

This series examines claims related to fiscal responsibility in Elkton since candidates have recently discovered the value of staking out that turf.  While we’re pleased that politicians are suddenly developing a sharp awareness of the tax and fee burdens placed on residents, Someone Noticed decided that a fact check was called for in order to check the longer record.  We’d planned a comprehensive article with a graded report card, but news about the proposed tax rate caused a series of back and forth exchanges.  Since there is confusion about this as the candidates stay busy claiming the label, we’ve rushed the installments into print.  This one looks at the town’s record with sewer service.  The article was delayed because officials got a legal opinion on whether documents related to this subject were open to the media under the Maryland Public Information Act.  Most of the information finally arrived at the end of the week so here’s the next installment.

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While residents of Elkton have faced major sewer rate hikes over the past four-years, there’s much more in the works as they continue seeing steep increases.  So far the average ratepayer has been on the hook for an increase of about 65% over the previous four years.  Projecting forward, residents are going to have to share more out of the household checkbook since a 59% boost in revenue is needed from fiscal year 2011 through 2014.  When the planned adjustments are finished the amount of money Elkton resident pay out will have more than doubled as the hikes will be about 124%.

The Mayor and Commissioners first heard recommendations noting the need for more substantial sewer rate increases in January from the Municipal and Financial Services Group.   As the board listened to those high numbers, they mulled over their options, causing one commissioner to remark that the increase is a little hard to take.  “It’s not a little hard, it’s very hard,” the consultant affirmed as he quickly reminded the board to not “shoot the messenger.”

While analyzing the reason for such hefty boosts, the consultant noted the importance of hook-up fees as a way to fund major expansion, cautioning the political leadership that when they waive revenue from major projects they’re shifting costs over to the ratepayer.  “That money has to come from somewhere,” the consultant remarked.

The loss of revenue  and need to control costs is something Commissioner Storke mentions regularly at board meetings.    In Dec. 2009, when the elected officials agreed to forego $200,000 the commissioner worried about the revenue loss.  ”Are you going to raise taxes next year?  Where’s it going to come from if you keep giving money away unless you’re going to raise taxes,” he emphasized, while recalling earlier exemptions. As the cold, snowy winter of 2009 got underway, it was apparently too early to worry about who’d have the title of being most fiscally responsible.  None of the other elected officials picked up on that theme.

Months later as they pondered the impact of the increase on a mild April evening, a few weeks before Elkton voters headed to the polls, Commissioner Jablonski suggested the town vote on the substantial fee increase after the election.  That idea was just fine the political leadership thought.

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3 responses to “FACT CHECK: Sewer Rate Increases Go Off the Charts in Elkton

  1. Hopefully Bob, the county’s resident statistician, will surf over these way and give us some deeper insight on these numbers.

  2. Elaine Barclay

    I guess they did want to wait untill after the election! Who would want to face the voters after increasing the water bill, while allowing some “major” developers to hook up without having to pay the traditional fee. After all, it was only $200,000. I’m sure the families who are just barely getting by can afford an increase. All I know is that my water bill is ridiculous. I dislike paying for water that I don’t even use. By the way, who was the developer who was allowed to hook up w/o paying the fee?

  3. Elaine: For sure. One of the things they’ve been used to in Elkton is that there’s no media coverage so they could routinely do about anything they wanted and few would know the difference. We discovered the need to routinely cover the details of town meetings long before this current election came up so people would have a chance to know about what’s going on and we try to cover it all fairly and keep a balance to the coverage.

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