A group of builders, politicians and utility officials, examining a fee developers charge to connect new homes to public water and sewer pipes, appeared to agree on at least one issue Monday: No one knows who is charging how much, or why they charge what they do.
“Is there any oversight as to what is going on out there?,”asked panel member David Weiss of Design-Tech in Silver Spring. “There is an easy answer: no,” he told the panel, which held its first meeting in Annapolis.
The group hopes to complete an analysis of the fees by the end of the year, with an eye toward recommending legislation to tighten controls.
A measure sponsored by Maryland State Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s), enacted last year, set up the panel in response to complaints from residents about water and sewer rates, among the nation’s highest, and possible overpayments for connections to Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission pipes. The commission serves Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Tom Traber, chief financial officer of WSSC, said the agency formerly managed the so-called front-foot benefit program, and installed the pipes themselves. But beginning around 2000, the task was handed off to developers, partly because Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were leery of keeping the debt on their books amid concerns it might affect their credit ratings on Wall Street. While WSSC had its own formula for calculating the costs and charges to consumers, there has been no formula required of the developers, he said.
The panel also includes State Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery); Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s); Frank R. Connors, chief financial officer of EYA in Bethesda; Paul B. Woodburn of Ben Dyer Associates, Inc. in Mitchellville, and two representatives each from the Montgomery and Prince George’s county governments. Traber and Kirk Wineland, the agency’s chief lobbyist, are working with the panel.