County Eyes Bond To Fund Needed Water Projects

SNOW HILL – Water was on the mind of the Worcester County Commissioners this week, as bids and other funding decisions for water towers and hydrants in local communities came before them at their meeting Tuesday.

“We’re in the water tower business, it seems,” Boggs said.

Newark should have a replacement water tower by next spring to serve the small, mid-county village. The County Commissioners approved purchase of a used water tank, built in 1984, for $506,000, over $100,000 less than a new water tower. The tank will be completely refurbished inside and out.

The cost for the refurbished, multi-legged tank is still about $200,000 over the estimated cost, but according to Public Works Director John Tustin, the original estimate is three years old and steel has become much more costly. The project also includes the installation of more piping to finish the Mill St. loop.

The refurbished tank would also be installed more quickly than a new structure.

Quarterly EDU charges will rise by $40 per EDU per quarter with the refurbished tower, while a new multi-legged tower would be $53 per quarter, and a new pedestal tank would be $59 per quarter. The cost will be applied to current and future users of the water service area.

The County Commissioners unanimously approved the purchase.

“They’ve been waiting a long time,” said Commissioner President Virgil Shockley.

The Mystic Harbor water tower is in limbo, with the recent news that the state has once again denied an application for loan funding from the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). Worcester County has tried to get that funding for the last three years and struck out every time.

“Unfortunately, we ranked very low on MDE’s project list,” said enterprise fund controller Jennifer Savage.

The Mystic Harbor water tower ranked 61 of 66 project applications for that loan funding.  MDE will fund the first 10 only, with the next 12 on the waiting list.

County staff has concluded that applying a fourth time for the state money will not change MDE’s decision.

With a site in hand for the Mystic Harbor water tower, and design on the new tank under way, the $1.3 million project should probably be included in the next Worcester County bond issue, said Savage on Tuesday.

“We’re going to have to come back to this,” County Chief Administrator Gerry Mason said.

The next Worcester County bond will not be issued until October, and the commissioners have some time to decide whether to add the water tower project to the bond issue.

Staff should generate a list of projects to be considered for bond funding, for further discussion, Shockley said.

A replacement for a water tower in Ocean Pines was ranked even lower than the Mystic Harbor water tower, at 65 of 66 projects. Commissioner Louise Gulyas suggested including the Ocean Pines tower in the bond issue as well.

“Why don’t we do two and get it out of the way?” Gulyas said.

While Ocean Pines did not get any state money either, unlike Mystic Harbor, that water tower does not yet have a site, Savage said.

Ocean Pines needs more fire hydrants, according to the Ocean Pines Water and Wastewater Advisory Committee, to improve fire protection. The fire hydrant project is the advisory board’s number one capital priority.

Staff has recommended that the $2.5 million project be added to the October bond issue.

MDE funding for the fire hydrants is unlikely.

“They don’t normally fund fire protection,” Savage said. 

“We’re just planning. We’re going to go through the list,” Shockley said.

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