The town halted its effort to craft a temporary
anti-growth plan Wednesday night.
Instead, an ante-up-for-growth plan was passed. At a
special hearing, the board of commissioners voted 4-0 to approve a surcharge on
sewer connection fees until March 1, 2007. The fee for houses will double to
$7,000, with the extra $3,500 used to repair, improve and maintain the town’s
failing sewer system. Commercial and industrial users also will be charged an
addition $3,500 per connection.
The surcharge takes effect immediately.
Although the decision was meant to close debate over
how Emmitsburg should manage growth while its leaking, overtaxed sewer system
is repaired, the matter could be back before the board soon. Commissioner Art
Elder, who was elected in 2003 on an anti-growth platform, said after the
meeting that he hoped to resurrect growth-plan discussions after April’s
"We just can’t agree on anything," he said, "so I’ll
just put it aside for now."
In making the case for the surcharge, David Haller said
it was obvious that after more than four months of debate, the commissioners
were split on how to slow growth. Considering the deadlock, he said it might be
best for the town to use the building demand to expedite repairs without
Mike Lucas, the town planner, told the board that it
would be "professionally irresponsible" to propose a moratorium with negligible
impact. That proposal would have allowed the continued construction of about
135 homes, and the commissioners recently decided they wanted commercial
"Perhaps this is the best political alternative we
have," Mr. Lucas said. Board members agreed.
"I think this is the only way out," Commissioner Joyce
Rosensteel said. "We would’ve been stalemated if we continued."
Commissioner Patrick Boyle said the town’s debt has
risen to $2.4 million, with 85 percent of the amount for sewer projects. The
surcharge, he said, can help offset that cost.
The builders can afford it better than our citizens,"
While the ordinance ends after three years, Mr. Haller
said the board should review the progress of system repairs at that time and
perhaps consider extending the surcharge, if necessary.
After the meeting, the town manager said that if the
two subdivisions under construction build out during the surcharge period and
Bollinger Properties LLC raises its planned senior-housing complex in the next
three years, the town would reap almost $600,000 in extra revenue. A few
commercial users could push the fiscal impact considerably higher.
Though the surcharge increases the cost of building in
the town, Mr. Haller said he doubted it would slow construction. Emmitsburg’s
connection fees already are relatively low, he said, and the surcharge only
lifts the to the level of the fees charged in several local cities and towns.
Tom Carolan, owner of Appletree Homes, which is
building the Southgate subdivision off South Seton Avenue, wasn’t thrilled with
the connection-fee increase, but he said the surcharge won’t affect his bottom
"It’s really going to be passed on to the customer," he
said Thursday. "Right now I’ve figured in $16,000 to $17,000 to cover permits
and fees. I’ll just have to figure $20,000."
The town’s sewer system, built predominantly of terra
cotta clay pipes that date back decades, was a major problem for the town in
2003. Its wastewater treatment plant exceeded its design capacity about one of
every five days. Ten times in 2002 and 2003, sewage was spilled into local
streams. The first effort to reduce the amount of wastewater the town processes
was a managed growth plan limiting the number of homes that could be built in a
year. When support for the plan was insufficient, the town staff crafted
moratorium legislation, which failed because commercial and industrial
development would be impacted.
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