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Town council lowers fees to help developers mull over changing water rates

(11/6) The cost of building a new home in Emmitsburg is going to get a bit cheaper, $5,000 cheaper to be exact, following a decision by the Emmitsburg Town Council to change several of the tap, impact, surcharge and associated fees.

Seeking relief in a worsening housing market

Over a month ago, facing a worsening housing market, builders with Ryan Homes, the developers of Brookfield, approached the Emmitsburg Town Council and asked for some relief, specifically that the town waive water and sewer taps on new homes for a period of time. If the fees were waived, the base price of a home would be significantly reduced, by thousands of dollars, and thereby might make it easier to sell, the developers argued.

Although the commissioners agreed that they were sympathetic to the needs of Ryan Homes, they said it would not be possible to totally waive the fees, as it is a commodity the town possesses and must sell to help cover water and sewer infrastructure repairs. But the board did agree to discuss the issue and return at the next meeting with a possible solution.

Then, at the Oct. 20 town meeting, a group of concerned citizens and builders with Ryan Homes approached the board with a plan to that would enable the town to waive the fees yet still cover infrastructure costs. The plan focused on illuminating the new tap fees and leveling and charging for water by the gallon. After discussing the issue for two hours, the board decided to have Town Manager Dave Haller review the information and present viable options at the next town meeting, on Nov. 3.

What options are available

After reviewing the numbers and discussing the issue, essentially doing a “reality check” of how the town takes in revenue, as Commission President Chris Staiger said, Haller presented the board with several suggestions. Haller suggested changing the new tap, impact, surcharge and associated fee list and water and sewer usage rate list.

Currently sewer taps cost $4,000; under the new plan they would be $8,000. Impact fee are $3,200; under the new plan they would be $1,200. The water surcharge is $7,000; under the new plan it would be $3,500. The sewer surcharge is $7,000; under the new plan it would be $3,500. The cost of water taps, permit and meter would remain the same under the new plan. These changes would save a homebuilder $5,000.

“The upshot is the existing charges are reduced by 20 percent in total burden,” said Haller, “but that’s placed a new hole that’s added to the system.”

To fill the hole, Haller suggested making changes the sewer usage rate list. Under the current plan, there are different costs for “In Town” and “Out of Town” classifications. The new plan would eliminate the differentiation and raise utility rates for those who consume more than 20,000 gallons.

Deciding what action to take

The board unanimously decided to take action on making the necessary changes to the tap, impact, surcharge and associated fee list, giving Haller permission to draft new text amendments for the five affected fees.

“I think personally it’s a great compromise,” said Commissioner Denise Etris.
Commissioner Glenn Blanchard agreed.

“We’re making an attempt to be fair with Ryan Homes,” said Blanchard. “I think we’re doing what we can.”

The board decided not to change the sewer usage rates, but take time to review the suggestions before making a decision.

“It’s easy to give away money, but this is the hard part,” Staiger said, acknowledging how quickly the board voted to lower the fees, but how they were hesitant to raise sewer rates.

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