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Thurmont may cut state and fed off from sewer system

(4/19) For more than 30 years, Maryland State Government and the federal governments have benefited from having parks near Thurmont. Now the Thurmont commissioners feel it may be time for the governments to show their appreciation to Thurmont.

The state and federal governments both use Thurmont’s sewer system to the tune of about 600,000 gallons a quarter. Though outside of the municipal limits, the government’s use of Thurmont’s sewer system has saved them the cost of building and maintaining their own wastewater treatment plant.

That may all soon change.

The town commissioners have started discussing whether it’s time to shut off the governments access to the sewer system in order to release some of the stress on the town’s overtaxed sewer system.

“With how bad the system or problem is, any amount I can reduce it is significant. If I can reduce 600,000 worth of treatment capacity a quarter, that’s significant,” said Mayor Martin Burns.

Part of the commissioners’ frustration that has brought them to this point is that the state and federal have been contacted repeatedly about helping fix the sewer system they use, but to no avail. State Senator David Brinkley has tried to help the town, but so far, nothing has come to his efforts. The town is still facing about $5 million in additional needed repairs to its sewer system.

“The state gave more than $20 million in grants to Baltimore and pretty much everyone else got nothing. If they had given Baltimore a million or two less, they could have helped out a lot of other communities,” Burns said.

Brinkley said Thurmont is in a “netherworld” as far as state funding. The system is not bad enough to warrant state grants, but it’s too extensive for the town to undertake repairing.

“If they don’t get some assistance from the state, they still have to make the improvements and that will mean raising the rates,” Brinkley said.

Under the agreements they governments have, Thurmont would have to give them six years notice that their service is being cut off. The town can also begin raising the governments’ sewer rates with two years notice.

“I think we ought to give them a rate increase as soon as we can,” Commissioner Glenn Muth said.

He said the town has talked about doing this before and never done anything. It’s time to do something.

Burns said that this is an option the town is discussing. “Cutting off any volume to me is a significant gain to the residents,” Burns said.

The volume of sewer capacity the governments use is equivalent to 30-60 houses in town. Burns said it is much easier to save the capacity that way than to upgrade the town’s sewer plant.

“Right now to upgrade the treatment plant capacity 330,000 gallons would cost us $6 million,” Burns said. “That’s a non-starter. We can’t afford it.”

The hope is that by beginning these discussions, and perhaps taking action, the governments will realize it is in their interests to help Thurmont and continue saving themselves money.

"It’s very difficult to encourage the government to do anything other than collect taxes,” Muth said.

When asked if he thought the actions would help, Frederick County Delegation Chairman Rick Weldon’s e-mailed response said, “Since the Mayor and Council did not seek my input (probably because I don't represent the Thurmont area), I feel comfortable saying I think this would be a foolish, bordering on childish, action by the Town.”

He said establishing “a line in the sand” was irresponsible.

Brinkley views it differently. “If cutting off the state and federal government is all that they have left to relieve some stress on the system, then that’s probably what they need to do,” he said. “I don’t think it’s punitive.”

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