County Delays Legislation On EDU Allocation; Officials Seek Appeal Process Before Vote

SNOW HILL –  County leaders again delayed approving a resolution to establish standard sewer flow calculations after a public hearing this week.

On Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners agreed to postpone approval of standard sewer flow calculations until an appeal process was worked into the legislation. That would provide developers with recourse if they’re asked to buy more sewer capacity than their project actually needs.

“I think it’s wrong for governments to force on businesses they’re going to have to pay ‘x’ amount of dollars if they don’t need it,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “That’s the part I have a problem with. There’s no recourse.”

County staff initially proposed a resolution establishing standard flow calculations, developed by the Worcester County Sewer Committee, to streamline the EDU (equivalent dwelling unit) allocation process and eliminate any subjectivity in county allocation decisions. Several commissioners were quick to express concerns with the calculations first proposed and went on to meet with the sewer committee to make changes to the resolution.

When the commissioners opened a public hearing on the updated resolution this week, developer Palmer Gillis and attorneys representing local developers objected to various aspects of the resolution. Attorney Mark Cropper said the proposed calculations were based on peak flow days rather than annual average use.

“I just want the commissioners to be aware the numbers in this table are presuming every use is operating at 100% capacity every day of the year,” he said. “We all know that’s not the case.”

He argued that as proposed, the resolution would force a business to buy a certain number of EDUs based on its use. A restaurant, for example, could be required to buy 10 EDUs upon being built when it might only ever be using five EDUs. Cropper said the resolution as proposed didn’t give developers a chance to come back to the county once they had actual flow figures.

“There is no mechanism in this resolution that says after a year or two years of metered use I can come back to the county and say ‘guys I told you I don’t need 10,” Cropper said. “My actual records prove I was right and the county was wrong.’ There is nothing in this resolution that corrects that, that provides an adjustment for that. That is inherently unfair because the county is dictating a cost to a property owner that was not warranted.”

Gillis, known for his experience developing medical offices, provided the commissioners with data regarding water and sewer flow at his projects.  He said he didn’t object to paying for EDUs but wanted to pay for the appropriate number of EDUs. He said the flow tables in the county’s proposed resolution were flawed.

“I don’t mind a fair and equitable assessment but when they’re hundreds of percent off based on the facts we should probably have a mechanism for reconsidering those,” he said.

Attorney Hugh Cropper criticized a different part of the resolution. He said as it was written the developer would not receive a building permit until all EDUs were paid for. He said that if a large project included residential and commercial uses, the developer couldn’t start on one or the other until they’d paid for the EDUs for the entire project.

When the commissioners asked how the proposed resolution could be adjusted to allow for a developer to have a project’s EDU usage reviewed, staff said the resolution could be updated annually.

“Our philosophy on that was this table would be adjusted on a regular basis …,” Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Shannahan said. “Just like anybody else we want the right number. We don’t want to over-allocate EDUs because we want to be sure there’s enough capacity for development. We don’t want to under-allocate either and base our figures on a planning figure that may be a third of what the peak flow is and have sewer running out on the streets on the Fourth of July weekend. We really want that right number. When the data is presented by applicants or by flow figures we’ll bring this back to you with revisions as necessary.”

The commissioners, however, said they wanted the resolution to include an appeal process or recourse for instances when actual usage proved different than projected usage. They voted unanimously in support of Bertino’s motion not to approve the calculations until an appeal process was worked into the legislation.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.