The board of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission voted yesterday to ask the Montgomery and Prince George's county councils to increase WSSC's capital budget to allow Marlboro Meadows, an aging Prince George's housing development, to connect to the utility's water and sewer lines.
Chairman Joyce A. Starks offered the resolution, which was approved 3 to 0, with one abstention. All three board members from Prince George's voted in favor, without discussion. Gerald J. Roper, the only Montgomery member in attendance, abstained.
The request for a $14 million increase in the WSSC's five-year, $631 million capital improvement budget requires the approval of the Prince George's and Montgomery councils.
Residents of Marlboro Meadows, in Upper Marlboro, have long complained about poor water quality and about higher-than-normal rates charged by their water provider, Utilities Inc. of Maryland. The residents have tried for decades to get connected to the WSSC. But they have been unsuccessful largely because of the high costs and bi-county politics.
Ten years ago, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, which are served by and oversee the WSSC, set aside $6 million in the agency's capital improvement budget to buy Utilities Inc. and connect the 39-year-old Marlboro Meadows community to WSSC mains.
The WSSC went to court in the 1990s and won the right to buy Utilities Inc., but the $9.7 million price set by the court was more than $3 million over what the WSSC had planned to pay. The estimated cost of buying Utilities Inc. now and extending its lines to the WSSC mains is $20 million.
The court action led the Montgomery and Prince George's councils to postpone any WSSC connection to Marlboro Meadows until Beechtree, a housing development to be built adjacent to Marlboro Meadows, has been finished.
Beechtree would require water and sewer connections to the WSSC mains, and installing the lines along Route 301 would be paid for largely by the developers. For only $1 million, those lines could be extended to Marlboro Meadows, WSSC officials said.
In May, Prince George's council Vice Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), whose district includes Marlboro Meadows, urged fellow council members to reject WSSC's proposed budget for fiscal 2005 because the Montgomery council would not approve a plan to buy Utilities Inc. and extend its lines.
As a result, for the first time in 20 years, the two councils failed to agree on a budget for the WSSC.
Under state law, the WSSC's proposed 2005 budget of nearly $700 million went into effect July 1 without approval of the councils.
Montgomery officials said they want to work out a plan to connect Marlboro Meadows to the WSSC without sticking ratepayers with a high cost.
"This is an old issue, and we're very sympathetic to the position," said Montgomery council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), chairman of the council panel that oversees the WSSC. "We've been anxious to work on a solution that didn't saddle the ratepayers. That's what it's all about, making sure the ratepayers get a fair shake."