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Lower builder fees could raise water, sewer rates for Emmitsburg residents

Ashley Andyshak
News-Post Staff

(11/6) Builders may see town-imposed surcharges for new homes decrease, but residents may get higher water and sewer bills in return.

The town proposed a new fee structure this week in response to requests from Ryan Homes and residents of its Brookfield subdivision.

Residents requested last month that the town decrease or waive $14,000 in water and sewer surcharges imposed on new homes, arguing that lower fees will allow Ryan to sell more homes and complete their neighborhood, increasing the town's tax base and maintaining their property values.

Ryan Homes settled on sales of eight houses in 2007, but has sold none in the past few months. Forty-eight lots in the subdivision remain unsold or undeveloped.

Town manager Dave Haller's proposal would cut the water and sewer surcharges in half, to $3,500 each, cut the new home impact fee from $3,200 to $1,200, and double the initial sewer tap fee to $8,000.

In total, new home fees would drop nearly 20 percent, to $20,725. Commissioners president Chris Staiger said the new fee structure is more reflective of the actual cost of a new home to the town's infrastructure.

The town imposed the $14,000 water and sewer surcharges on new homes in 2004 to fund repairs to its aging systems after facing several significant sewer spills and subsequent state penalties.

To make up for the 20 percent decrease in new home fees, commissioners may consider a water and sewer rate increase for customers who use more than 20,000 gallons per month.

Staiger suggested holding off on an increase until the start of next year's budget cycle, but Haller said the money lost through the fee decreases must be made up somewhere. The town is already facing a $100,000 deficit in total impact fee revenue from less-than-expected home sales this year, and keeping water and sewer rates flat would only add to the mess, Haller said.

Town staff members will prepare ordinances reflecting the changes, and the measures will be open for public discussion at future town meetings, Haller said.

Though Brookfield residents said they're glad the town has at least considered their request for lower surcharges, commissioners said the decreases are not an instant fix for the poor housing market.

"I hope the residents of Brookfield don't think this is a silver bullet" or that things are going to start flying out the door as soon as this happens," said commissioner Glenn Blanchard.

Read other news stories related to the Emmitsburg Town Government