Richard G. Hocevar, former general manager of WSSC, dies at 86

Richard G. Hocevar, who led the suburban Maryland water and sewer utility during years of rapid growth in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, died Sept. 17 at Brooke Grove Retirement Village in Sandy Spring. He was 86.

He died of complications from peripheral arterial disease, said Thomas J. Street, a family friend.

(Courtesy of Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission) - Richard G. Hocevar was general manager of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission from 1985 to 1993.

Mr. Hocevar was general manager of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission from 1985 to 1993, when it was the seventh largest water and sewer utility in the country.

As the two counties that WSSC serves — Montgomery and Prince George’s — boomed with new growth, Mr. Hocevar persuaded state lawmakers to allow the utility to bill developers for expanding water and sewer services to new buildings rather than pass on those costs to customers through higher rates, WSSC officials said.

It was a heated legislative decision at a time when WSSC’s customers were paying rates already among the highest in the nation.

Mr. Hocevar defended fliers that the utility mailed with customers’ bills that said “Growth should pay for growth,” a move some opponents of the fee proposal criticized as inflammatory. Mr. Hocevar told The Washington Post that the utility needed to warn customers of the potential for double-digit rate increases if the developer fee failed.

He was also known for being blunt. When WSSC spent $500,000 on a public relations firm to inform residents about the need for water and sewer construction projects in their neighborhoods, Mr. Hocevar told The Post, “We’re trying to get people involved before they see steel coming out of the ground, and we catch a boatload of hell.”

The utility’s blue-glass, 14-story headquarters overlooking Interstate 95 in Laurel was named for Mr. Hocevar after he persuaded political officials in both counties to consolidate the utility’s four offices into one location in 1992.

Street, a former WSSC budget director, said Mr. Hocevar pitched the new building to Prince George’s officials as an anchor for economic development in the I-95 corridor and convinced Montgomery officials that the move would keep customers’ rates down by saving on rent.

“He was very effective in making arguments,” said Street, who is now an assistant chief administrative officer for Montgomery. “Everything he was concerned about was common sense.”

Richard Gavin Hocevar was born Aug. 1, 1926, in Cleveland. He left high school at 16 to work as a welder to support his widowed mother and two younger siblings before joining the Army Air Forces toward the end of World War II, Street said. Mr. Hocevar received a GED in 1953.

Mr. Hocevar, who developed a speciality in civil engineering, retired from the Air Force as a chief master sergeant in 1969. It was while serving in Germany in 1950 that he married Hilda Wetzstein, a hospital volunteer. She died in 1995.

Survivors include a sister.

Mr. Hocevar worked as chief of solid waste for the District’s Department of Environmental Services before joining WSSC in 1974 as deputy general manager. Four years later, he oversaw WSSC’s efforts to become one of the first utilities in the country to use new technology to reline aging sewer pipes without having to dig up streets, WSSC officials said.

Mr. Hocevar often gave out wine bottles with a WSSC label and filled with tap water to convey the idea that WSSC water was relatively inexpensive compared with bottled water, said Walt Townshend, president of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber, a business group.

“He got people to think about something they took for granted,” Townshend said.

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