At 6:28 p.m. a public hearing was held to review and receive comments on the proposed update to the Comprehensive Water & Sewerage Plan for Kent County. Commissioner Fithian read the notice of public hearing. Commissioner Fithian also read the procedures for testifying.
Jim Wright, County Engineer, Public Works explained that by State law the County must have a Comprehensive Water & Sewage Plan (the Plan), and it must be updated every three years. Mr. Wright also gave an overview of the major changes included in the proposed Plan update, which are: upgrade for Galena Extension to Georgetown and Olivet Hill; upgrade to Worton Sewerage; and revision of the Betterton Service Area Map.
Wayne Morris, Director, Public Works explained the purpose of the meeting tonight is the public hearing that is required before an updated Plan may be adopted. Mr. Morris also explained that the approval of the plan does not approve any of the projects contained in the Plan. Maryland Department of The Environment and Maryland Department of Planning require the approval of the Plan before the County may apply for funding or construction of the projects.
Commissioner Fithian read several letters received in support and opposition to the proposed update to the Plan.
In attendance were approximately 100 persons comprised of several department heads, members of the media, and citizens.
Commissioner Fithian invited individuals who signed the testimony log to comment on the proposed updated Plan and the following individuals provided comments.
Emmet Duke, Sassafras River Keeper, spoke in support of the Georgetown/Galena Sewer extension from the perspective of nutrients discharged into the Sassafras River. Mr. Duke stated “we are all concerned with the cost, but how much will it save in the future”.
Joyce Floyd, Worton resident, asked about help in paying for water and sewer if persons cannot afford the bills. Mr. Morris stated that Social Services has programs to assist residents, although he does not know the specifics. Ms. Floyd also questioned why her water bill has increased so drastically. Commissioner Fithian stated the flush tax by the State has most recently increased bills that this is a State fee, not a Kent County tax.
Robert Tate, Chesterville resident, asked how rate increases are justified when 26% of Kent County residents are senior citizens, there is an 8% + unemployment rate, and there is no economic growth in Kent County. Commissioner Fithian stated that the Commissioners have not discussed or approved any rate increase.
Commissioner Short reminded everyone that the Town of Galena has given the County a deadline of November 1, 2012 for deciding whether the County will move forward with the Galena/Georgetown project; therefore a decision will be made within this time frame.
Reverend Rueben Freeman asked if the Comprehensive Plan does not support this extension, will The Commissioners continue with approval of the Comprehensive Water & Sewerage Plan as proposed. Commissioner Fithian said approval is a possibility, as the compliance with the Comprehensive Plan is open to interpretation.
James Rochester asked why an additional sewage system is being considered when the current sewerage system is not working properly. Commissioner Pickrum stated that he intends to propose a program to assist residents who encounter a hardship, similar to the property tax abatement program for senior citizens.
Reverend Clarence Hawkins shared his concerns for residents in searching for the truth. Reverend Hawkins also shared citizens’ desire to not stand in the way of progress, but citizens are concerned that they will lose their property over water and sewer bills. Reverend Hawkins suggests the Galena/Georgetown extension be a stand alone project financially.
Judy Coleman, Worton Resident explained her concern about current water rates. Ms. Coleman stated that there is too much advocacy for businesses and individuals should get more consideration. Ms. Coleman also questioned the approval and costs of the engineering study.
Commissioner Fithian stated that 30% of the County water and sewer systems’ costs are subsidized by county residents that don’t use County water and sewer.
Bob Hodge expressed his concern with cost of the system and the fact that only one bid was obtained for the engineering study. Mr. Hodge agrees with the three projects included in the proposed update to the Comprehensive Water & Sewage Plan.
David Foster passed on speaking as Commissioner Fithian had already read his letter earlier.
John Burke, President, SRA, echoed the environmental concerns of Mr. Duke and added the economic impacts of the Chester and Sassafras River on the local economy. Mr. Burke also shared that the SRA has approached grantors to assist with the cost of the Galena/Georgetown extension and to assist citizens.
Rick King, Worton resident, shared his personal experience working with a local marina business and its regular practices in polluting the Sassafras River. Further, he expressed concern with the problems with the Worton system and would like to see existing systems maintained prior to adding additional systems. Mr. King also questioned not utilizing competitive bidding.
Erney Maher, a new resident and volunteer with both the Sassafras River Association and the Chester River Association, believes that being proactive is more cost effective.
Christine Harris, widow, asked if Kent County received any stimulus money from the Federal Government and if so, where was it spent. Commissioner Fithian advised that Kent County was not able to use the approximate $500,000 in highway stimulus funding offered Kent County due to the county’s not meeting certain federal road standards.
Charles Ward was concerned with how future projects would be paid for, and the utilization of potential grant funds.
Barbara Lubunyz asked if there was a ceiling for the 4% rate increase each year. Commissioner Fithian stated it has an annual cap of 4%.
Shirley Eklund shared that although her house mortgage has been paid off, she almost lost her home because of the water and sewer bills.
Bill Crowding complimented Mr. Morris on the way the proposed update to Comprehensive Water & Sewage Plan was presented as it is easy to follow and understand. Mr. Crowding observed that he is not hearing that anyone is opposed to the sewer lines, but that in eight years the water and sewer bills have gone up 147%. Mr. Crowding suggested that the entire County pay for the Galena/Georgetown Extension if it is an economic benefit for the entire County.
Barbara Fertig expressed how hard it is to find money to pay water and sewer bills. Ms. Fertig asked the Commissioners to give the citizens the opportunity to balance the budget. Commissioner Fithian invited Ms. Fertig and anyone citizen who is interested to be a part of the budget process.
Commissioner Fithian thanked everyone for their professionalism and applauded everyone for commenting.
Written comments will be accepted in the Commissioners’ Office until Monday, October 29, 2012 at 4:30 p.m.
The hearing was taped for reference and on a motion by Commissioner Pickrum and seconded by Commissioner Short, the Commissioners unanimously agreed to adjourn the public hearing at 7:56 p.m.
Sondra M. Blackiston, Clerk
Ronald H. Fithian, President
The County Commissioners
Of Kent County, Maryland