Berlin Working To Create New Sewer Capacity Policies

BERLIN – Berlin staff and elected officials reviewed new policies on wastewater distribution and infrastructure dedication during a rare work session held Monday evening.

“We’re at the beginning of the beginning of planning Berlin’s growth for the next couple of decades,” said interim Mayor Gee Williams at the outset of the session.

Intensive work on the wastewater capacity management policy revealed that Berlin would possess the necessary EDUs to accommodate the future growth of residential units within town limits after the planned expansion of the Berlin wastewater treatment plant.

“We can show on paper, for planning purposes, that we have capacity,” said Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary.

Projected future wastewater needs come in at 3,113 EDUs of 3,200 available EDUs, with 20 percent of the total existing EDUs set aside as the state-required reserve.

Williams emphasized that the spreadsheets delineating future need for EDUs are living documents, which will change as projects are born or never come to fruition. While the details may change, the overall effort will prepare the town for service demands.

“There shouldn’t be these feast or famine periods,” said Williams.

A proposed ordinance would also keep developers from holding on to allocated sewer capacity for years without using it, a common practice in the past.

Developers would be required to pay 10 percent of the special connection fee as a non-refundable deposit, which would currently be about $1,100 per EDU, to reserve that capacity. Once the building permit is issued, the developer must pay the balance of the special connection fee.

Work must begin within 12 months of a building permit’s issuance. The developer has a further 12 months to complete the project. Extensions are possible for problems outside the developer’s control. If those deadlines are not met, the EDUs revert back to Berlin.

“The whole point of the structure is you have to be serious about development,” Bambary said.

“Nothing happens ‘til money’s put up. That’s kind of the American way,” Williams said.

Developers must also have a final plat before the town will sign an allocation agreement.

“If you’ve got a recorded plat, you’re in,” said Bambary said.

The town council had some differences of opinion over locking the special connection fee in at the rate established when the EDU was reserved,or whether the developer would be liable to pay an increased special connection fee, if the higher fee was established after the EDUs were reserved.

Council member Ellen Lang suggested limiting a developer to the original fee or establishing a percent of the existing fee to be paid.

Williams wondered whether paying an increased fee would punish the developer who committed to the process earlier.

The new wastewater treatment plant will be expensive, Bambary said. Special connection fees were established to pay for increased capacity to keep that burden from existing ratepayers.

A public works agreement developed by Berlin staff would require all infrastructure to be completed before the first occupant moves into a development.

“They can build the houses, just no occupants,” Bambary said.

“It simplifies life considerably,” Williams said.

A situation recently came to light wherein a developer had not yet finished, and then dedicated, the roads, preventing the town from collecting trash in that neighborhood, a service included in Berlin’s taxes.

“That does not make any sense. It’s not common sense,” said Council member Paula Lynch.

It is easier for the developer and costs less to fix the road than pay for trash service, Williams said.

Other communities do not require finished roads for trash service, Lynch said. Pocomoke City will pick up trash once the base coat is in place.

“I think it’s unreasonable and totally non-resident friendly,” Lynch said.

Taking heavy equipment onto private property exposes Berlin to liability issues, Bambary said, hence the existing turnover policy that requires road dedication before trash pick up.

Although Berlin requires a maintenance bond, the difficulty and expense of invoking the bond make it impractical as leverage against a lagging developer, Bambary has previously explained.

“There’s no incentive for the contractor to put the topcoat on,” Bambary said.

The town council made no decisions at the work session.

The proposed policies could be introduced at an official Berlin Town Council meeting in mid to late September with a public hearing in October.