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Town Can't Flush Away Sewer Problems

Vic Bradshaw
Frederick News Post

(12/17/2003) Sewer problems, a topic at many town meetings this year, were a key area of discussion at the last scheduled meeting in 2003.

Tuesday night, board members expressed frustration with the lack of information about the ongoing sewer system study and the recent public complaints of residents affected by the sewage backups.

ARRO Consulting Inc., the Hagerstown engineering firm hired to troubleshoot the system, has worked for months but hasn't provided a written report on its findings. The board seems anxious to get answers, even partial ones, as soon as possible.

Commissioner Ron Terpko said some problems ARRO found have been fixed. He said the board knew it might take up to a year to find the source or sources of the severe infiltration and inflow problem, but he said periodic updates would be helpful.

"I know we all want (a solution) to come quicker," Mr. Terpko said. "We need more information and more answers."

Commissioner Wayne Hooper said he'd like ARRO to at least provide excerpts from its report so affected residents could be told about the findings so far and the corrective actions taken.

Mayor Martin Burns also had strong words for residents who recently complained about sewage being pumped from the system into their street to prevent back-ups. Though he empathized with them, he said the town has hired experts to find solutions and won't capriciously spend money in hopes of repairing the problems by luck.

"If you have, suggestions more than what we're doing now," the mayor said, "I'd like to hear them, because we're at a loss."

He also said the residents shouldn't be "crucifying" town staff for not fixing the problem. Staff members could have ignored the problem, he reasoned, allowing homes to fill with sewage again.

Commissioner Glenn Muth noted that a two-foot break in sewer piping was found on West Main Street after sewage backed up into a home. The cut apparently was caused by a contractor installing a water line, but the town wasn't told of the error. The house was vacant when the work was performed, so the problem wasn't discovered until new residents arrived.

Mr. Muth said the break could have added up to 250,000 gallons of water to the sewer system each day considering how wet the ground has been.

In their lone vote of the meeting, the commissioners adopted Frederick County's real estate tax discount plan for the first billing period of 2004. The county requested the change because it is switching software and cannot program all town plans before bills are sent.

Thurmont normally allows residents to reduce their payment by 2 percent if it's made in the first three months after the bills are sent. The county's plan provides a 1 per-cent discount if the bill is paid in the first month and a 0.5 percent break if it's paid in the second month.

The lower discount rates will mean a bit of extra tax money for the town. The county has said that different rates for towns can be used for the July billing.

Mr. Burns lobbied briefly for the commission to adopt the discount rates permanently, saying it would help the county. Mr. Muth opposed that idea.

"it's not our money. Its the taxpayer's money."  he said.

The mayor argued that the amount was relatively insignificant, but the commissioners limited the change to this billing and will revisit the issue next year.

The board also heard a complaint from a former colleague. Ken Oland, who was defeated in the October election, said his wife, Marilyn, recently slipped on ice on the sidewalk at the Town Square and fell. She wasn't seriously injured, but he claimed he wouldn't have fallen if police officers and public works crew members had done their jobs.

"They ought to be looking for these things," he said.

Mr. Burns noted that town staff members can't be everywhere. He said the side-walk was cleaned but theorized that water from melting snow froze overnight, causing the icy patch. Appropriate staff members will be alerted to watch for such places.

Mr. Terpko also asked to see bills from Cliff Bridgford, the former town attorney. He said the town may have exceeded the amount it budgeted for legal fees with more than six months left in the fiscal year.

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