Cecil County officials need to figure out how to educate the public about the rules and regulations surrounding water and sewer services.
The county has privatized their water utilities by signing agreements with Artesian Water.
But the county is still in the sewer business.
The fact that people do not understand the process for expanding sewer lines was evident during Tuesday night’s public hearing.
There were several misconceptions about public utilities.
Myth 1 – The county makes a lot of money on sewer systems and any expansion is just a “money grab.”
FACT – That sentiment was expressed frequently among the people sitting around me as I covered Tuesday night’s meeting. This is incorrect. Running water and sewer services has become a larger pain in the neck for officials as national and state health mandates have become stricter. Building and maintaining these public services has become very expensive and violations mean fines. County and town officials have to spend a lot of their time scrambling to pay the debt service on sewer lines while trying to keep costs down for users. Water and sewer funds are supposed to be separate enterprise funds. Last fiscal year, the county’s general fund had to give the county sewer fund more than a million bucks. So, no, providing sewage is not a profit-making operation for any governmental entity.
Myth 2 – The county ought to just leave people alone and not make them connect into sewer systems.
FACT – State code mandates that property owners connect to public sewer and water lines. The county code reflects what the state code tells them they must do. The county cannot change state law. People need to yell at their state representatives if they want to change this, although it is doubtful that state officials would make new rules that go against public health concerns. It is apparent that county officials have been trying to bend those rules as much as they can to help the public. Many at Tuesday’s meetings appeared to miss this attempt to help as much as possible.
Myth 3 – The county does not make businesses pay for sewer lines and the government pays businesses a lot of money.
FACT – The business community in Cecil County has had to pay plenty for sewer connection fees, building permits, inspections and other fees. For large buildings, these fees are in the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. The state offers incentives. In recent years, many incentives are based on the number of jobs that come with development.
For future meetings on this issue, officials need to come with more facts and figures to share with the public. They cannot expect the average person to be savvy when it comes to business development and utility mandates. More information means less confusion and could reduce the anger. It would also be great if the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission would send people to offer information and comments to help promote business expansion in the county.