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Park sewer rates to rise dramatically

(8/21) Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park could face sewer rate increases next year of up to 695 percent.

Thurmont Mayor Martin Burns said, “Six hundred ninety-five percent is an extremely high increase. I’m not going to say it’s not fair.”

The parks are currently paying rates that were set in 1983. Since that time, Thurmont residents have seen their sewer rates increase 695 percent from $1 per 1,000 gallons of treated sewage to $7.95.

Burns said since residents’ rates have increased over a number of years, “I would prefer to stagger the increase over a period of time.”

“I wouldn’t be so charitable to the federal park,” said Commissioner Glenn Muth. That’s because the State of Maryland gave the town a $1.4-million special allocation to help with sewer repairs.

However, the federal government hasn’t appeared to be working with the town. Commissioner Ron Terpko expressed frustration a meeting between town and federal officials. “I almost feel like nobody’s taking us seriously,” Terpko said.

The parks both pay a minimum fee for sewer service as long as their usage falls below a certain level. When averaged per 1,000 gallons of sewage treatment (the way most customers pay), inequities appear.

For months the commissioners have been considering bringing the park rates in line with the increases residents have borne, especially because the additional income would help pay for the multi-million-dollar sewer repairs needed in Thurmont.

Currently Cunningham Falls State Park pays $1,420 a month for sewage treatment. A 695-percent increase would take the monthly rate to $11,289 a month. Catoctin Mountain Park’s current rate is $710 a month. A 695-percent increase would increase the monthly rate to $5,645 a month.

The commissioners discussed whether the parks would accept the increase or whether they might simply build their own treatment plant on park land or use something like composting toilets.

Terpko said a plant would cost the state or federal government $3.5 million and if they were to commit that much money to a new plant after turning the town down for money, the governments would look bad.

“The other option is not to raise the rates and in two years cut them off,” Muth said.

In the end, the commissioners decided they will send a notice of possible increases up to 695 percent to the parks and they will renegotiate the contracts. The consensus opinion seemed to be that the rates would be increased incrementally; however, the size of the increments still needs to be worked out.

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