SNOW HILL – County officials have repealed a resolution that allowed for the financing of certain water and sewer charges.
The Worcester County Commissioners voted to repeal a 2014 resolution that allowed property owners to finance EDU (Equivalent Dwelling Unit) charges for up to 15 years. Though intended to encourage homeowners to connect to public water and sewer, the policy was primarily used by commercial developers.
“It was decided this did not meet the intent of the original resolution,” said Harold Higgins, the county’s chief administrative officer.
Higgins told the commissioners that as staff had started the annual budget process, they realized the policy would have a negative impact on the county’s ability to pay for recent capital improvements, as that depended on the sale of EDUs. According to Higgins, paying for the $12.8 million upgrade and expansion of the Mystic Harbour Wastewater Treatment Plant and the $600,000 expansion in Ocean Pines to serve the Pines Plaza Shopping Center both relied on the sale of EDUs.
“Financing of any EDUs sold in those service areas further exacerbates the repayment plan,” Higgins wrote in a report to the commissioners.
Commissioner Jim Bunting said the county’s sewer committee had looked at the issue and also recommended that the policy be repealed.
“Almost every sewer district is looking at an increase (in rates),” he said, “some caused by this ability to finance.”
Higgins said the policy had been created in an effort to encourage property owners to abandon septic systems in favor of using public water and sewer.
“We found few homeowners took advantage,” Higgins said. “It was more commercial.”
Commissioner Ted Elder asked whether a compromise, such as reducing the length of the financing period, was possible.
“I hate to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.
Commissioner Chip Bertino said the resolution was negatively impacting residents in Ocean Pines.
“It’s become very clear this benefits the commercial district but it’s on the backs of our ratepayers in Ocean Pines,” he said. “If the intent was to hold harmless the residential ratepayers that hasn’t come to fruition.”
Commissioner Bud Church pointed out that the exact financial impact of the resolution wasn’t clear. Bunting, however, said that information would be explained as the county’s budget review began.
“We’re looking at a bad situation particularly in Mystic Harbour,” he said.
The commissioners voted 6-0 to repeal the resolution. Church abstained.