(12/11) I hope everyone has had a safe and happy Thanksgiving Holiday! The Christmas Season is now upon us! The town Christmas tree and tree lighting ceremony will now be on the square next to
PNC Bank. Please join us on Monday, December 5 at 6pm when we light the tree, do some caroling, and continue our traditional holiday activities just down South Seton Avenue at the Carriage House Inn. I hope to see
you there – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Town business in November focused on two main areas: 1) recommendations to county government as they begin their review of development related zoning changes made by the previous County Board
of Commissioners, and, 2) how the town will meet the increased revenue requirements of the new waste water treatment plant required by updates to federal and state legislation. These are both important issues -
defining our relationship with county government and conducting our single biggest business activity as a water and sewer system provider.
Two officials from the county’s Planning Office attended the mid-month town meeting to discuss the overall county zoning review effort as well as specifics concerning applications in (or
adjacent to) the ‘Emmitsburg Growth Area.’ This area represents the town’s current expectations of our potential growth and development over the next twenty years – both within and beyond our current borders. As part
of the town’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan, we dramatically reduced this growth area from the previous 1996 plan. That being said, there are still significant parcels adjacent to the current town boundaries which could
yield commercial or residential development.
The previous County Board of Commissioners established agricultural zoning on many of these neighboring properties (as well as on similar properties all throughout the county). The current
County Board of Commissioners promised to review requests to reverse many of the previous board’s actions. As part of the process, the county has asked for input from the municipalities. We have made a number of
First, we have asked that the county adjust their growth boundary for the town to match our growth boundary. Second, we have asked that the county maintain the current zoning. Agricultural
zoning will limit the opportunity for unplanned growth UNLESS there is annexation of the property into the town. Lastly, we have asked that the county adjust their "land use designations" to match the town’s land use
designations. In our Comprehensive Plan, the town has already designated what land outside of town we feel is suitable for various types of growth. If the county designations match the town’s designations this should
allow for growth opportunities through municipal annexation – instead of promoting a patchwork of haphazard development outside of town demanding our resources while not paying to provide them.
The other major initiative in November involved revising future sewer collection rates. This charge is billed based on the volume of water you use. You are charged one set of rates to deliver
the water and a second set of rates to take it away. In the past, these rates have been the same. A substantial increase is now required in the set of rates charged to take water away through the sewer system -
primarily related to the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant.
Town staff and the elected officials have made substantial progress defining the requirements and developing an implementation plan. First, there are increased costs related to financing the
project. The town has taken a $5.5 million loan to finance our portion of the project costs. (The remaining $14.5 million is covered by grants.) We have been paying financing costs on this borrowed money since the
loan was issued. Next, there will be increased costs to operate the new plant. Instead of the largely passive lagoon system, a more active treatment process requiring increased power consumption and chemical
treatment is necessary to meet new environmental standards. These costs will not start until the new plant comes on line in early 2014.
Finally, we have already been collecting less money than required to meet our ‘sewer system depreciation costs.’ We are not currently collecting sufficient additional funds to cover costs
associated with replacing our existing sewer infrastructure - when that time eventually comes. This specific situation has worsened due to millions of dollars spent replacing sewer lines throughout town over the last
ten years - as well as the upcoming new plant itself. More money is supposed to be set aside to replace new, high dollar infrastructure than the old, dilapidated infrastructure.
Costs are now being calculated and finalized. Implementation will be based on when we realize the costs. Some fee increase can be expected early next year to cover current costs while
additional fees will wait until the new plant actually comes on line. As always, I encourage your participation and feedback to your elected officials!
Read other articles by Chris Staiger