From James P. Miller of Havre de Grace:
To the editor.
This administration has been abusing the water and sewer fund for years. The Current Mayor was part of the sitting City Councils that knowingly spent the Capital Improvement Funds from the Water and Sewer Fund 9. They did this because they didn’t want to raise the water rates when they had money in the bank. Raising rates means mad voters who may decide to vote them out of office. This money was to pay for future improvements to the plants and infrastructure. Eight years ago during my first year in office this practice was hopefully stopped. When the question was asked how long this practice had been going on the answer was at least 15 years. Fifteen years of no rate increases, but fifteen years of raises and cost of living increases for the employees, average 6% a year, not counting the increased costs of supplies and chemicals.
Eight years ago the first Water and Sewer Commission was appointed. The mayor who was part of the City Council that knowingly spent the funds appointed three other members that were either still sitting or had been a part of the city councils that spent the money. I served on the first interim Water and Sewer Commission established by the Mayor’s Executive Order. My first statement to the committee was how we can save on operating expenses.
If we join forces with everyone in the business on chemicals we may save 5%. Our biggest expenses are employee costs. We need to modernize the operations to make the plant more efficient. I asked that an independent efficiency audit be conducted on the water plant. The waste water plant was under construction at the time, so hopefully the new plant would operate more efficiently than the old plant. The mayor refused the request.
At the time a Maryland Environmental Service (MES) employee was under contract to work at the Water Plant as all of the plant supervisors were out. MES is a self-supporting, independent State agency, combining the public sector’s commitment to environmental protection with the private sector’s flexibility and responsiveness. I spoke to representative from Maryland Environmental Service. I asked them if they could submit a proposal to conduct an audit and by having one of their employees working at the plant they would know quickly what improvements were needed. The Mayors final answer was to hire the MES employee full time and move one of the plant supervisors to a trainer position.
Think back a couple years and try to recall the orange pump that sat at the corner of Van Buren Drive and 155. This was there to pump water up the hill in order to keep the water tank full. Day and night for many months this pump did its job. Unfortunately the problem that caused the need for the pump was a water valve that was shut off and forgotten about. An updated water and sewer map and a little neglected maintenance on the water valves could have prevented this.
The city is in a unique situation. While other jurisdictions are doing everything they can to get people to conserve water. The city needs to sell more water. Fund 9 needs to sell more water to bring in more money. By raising the rates to bring in more money, it forced people to cut back on their consumption. Cars stayed dirtier longer and the grass was a little browner. Conserving water doesn’t pay the cities bills. Just last year the Water and Sewer Commission recommended a 5% increase with an additional 5% going into effect this year. 5 + 5 = 10% Now the Mayor wants to raise the rates an additional 20%. One of the tricks the city uses to generate more money from the water users is to wait until the rate goes up and then bill the user for the water used the previous quarter at the higher rate.
The distributed expenses that takes over a million dollars from the Water and Sewer fund is put in the general fund. I asked the Director of Finance to explain where the money was going. In DPW the break down was as follows. Director of DPW 55%, Deputy Director Streets 55%, Deputy Director Water and Sewer 100%. Finance Department two employees 100%, Police Department one dispatcher 100%. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
City elections are coming up in May and it’s time the citizens stand up and elect people that will do some work and help the city. The time for feel good awards ceremonies and anecdotal stories has to end.
James P. Miller
Havre de Grace