SNOW HILL – Residents of Newark expressed frustration over rising wastewater treatment costs this week.
The Worcester County Commissioners last Tuesday hosted a public hearing regarding proposed construction of spray irrigation for the Newark Sanitary Service Area. Several residents used the opportunity to object to the increasing costs they’ll be facing as a result of the spray irrigation project.
“You’re going to have a ghost town if you keep it up,” resident Susan Age said.
Public Works Director John Tustin told the commissioners the spray irrigation plan was put together in 2015 when the county entered into an agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to remove point-source discharge from Windmill Creek. He said the project had to be done.
“This is under a consent order,” he said. “This is a project that legally has to be done and it is currently under construction.”
The project is expected to cost $2.1 million and will be funded by a $1.05 million low interest loan and a $1.05 million grant. The loan means a quarterly assessment of $55 will be added to each customer’s sewer/water bill.
Age said the $55 would be a significant increase for Newark residents. She pointed out Newark was not incorporated and didn’t get annual municipal grants.
“We’ve got a lot of old homes,” she said. “I don’t know how they’re going to afford it.”
Newark resident Joan Scott said she’d just learned of the public hearing two days before and thought more residents would have attended if they’d had advance notice. Scott acknowledged that it had been publicly advertised as required but had likely been in the Daily Times, which she said so few people subscribed to anymore.
She said her household of two already had a quarterly bill of about $300 before the proposed $55 increase. She said many in Newark would struggle to afford it.
“People live there because they can’t afford the other towns,” she said.
Newark resident John Kumer said he had several concerns related to water and sewer service in Newark. Aside from frustration with the cost increase, he said water was often rusty.
Commissioner Ted Elder said he’d asked county staff to notify residents directly of the public hearing and spray irrigation project.
“I’m extremely disappointed in our staff for not informing people of what’s going on,” he said. “They certainly all have a right to be here, if every one of them wants to come here, and have their voices heard.”
Commissioner Josh Nordstrom asked whether there were any alternatives to the proposed spray irrigation. Staff said no other options explored were considered successful.
“I’m surprised honestly that there’s no alternative for this,” Nordstrom said, “because you’re talking about folks who pay the highest water and wastewater in the county.”
Elder asked about the possibility of additional grants to help residents afford the increase associated with spray irrigation. Staff said they’d explored various alternatives, particularly a grant tied to a salary survey, unsuccessfully. Staff said the county did not qualify for that grant because reported incomes within the service area were too high.
Commissioner Jim Bunting asked why the county was pursuing spray irrigation. Tustin replied that it was because the state had ordered it to.
“I’m getting tired of hearing it’s caused by us,” Bunting said, stressing that the state was mandating the change.
Though Nordstrom wanted to make a motion to table the issue to get more information on potential alternatives, Commissioner Joe Mitrecic pointed out the public hearing was just to gather input on the project. The declaration of intent resolution for the MDE loan is expected to be reviewed and approved at an upcoming meeting.