There was yet another confrontation between Prince George's and Montogomery county commissioners on the Washington Suburban Sanitary commission yesterday as the group failed to agree on a new schedule of rates to cover the rising costs of new water and sewer connections to suburban Maryland homes.
After two months of study, the commissioners were scheduled to vote on a new, graduated rate structure to replace a rate schedule that is costing the agency $40.000 a week, according to commission general manager Robert & McGary. But the three Prince George's commissioners, who already had held up a vote on the new rates for two weeks, announced that they could not support the new rate structure, and instead endorsed a separate proposal
The result was a impasse.
Montgomery commissioners David R. Section, Vera Berkman and Bert Cumby, as in previous meetings, accused the PrinceGeorge's delegation of atempting to hold up the rate increases because of their potential political effect on Prince George's County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. who is locked in a tight battle for reelection.
Prince George's commissioners, in effect agreed. Each said that they were unable to support the new graduated rates because the highest of the charges for new sewer hookups $4,125, an increase of almost 400 percent over the current base rate of $1,0595 - had been the subject of much publicity and public misconception.
To avoid passing the $4,125 charge which would affect only a small number of persons who built homes on vacant lots in developed areas-the Prince George's delegation instead advocated a plan tha would have charged the average home buyer $500 more for a sewer hookup than under the graduated proposal
Both proposals failed to pass as Montgomery and Prince George's commissioners spilt 3 to 3 on three separate votes.
Afterward, Prince George's Commissioner Andrew M. Vislosky pointed out that there was an essential difference in the political situation of the two county executives.
"Montogomery County has a lame - duck executive," he said, referring to James P. Gleason, who is retiring, "and we have one that's running for reelection."
McGary told the commission he was "appalled " by the deadlock. "Are you really going to sit here and pass on this? he asked the commissiners.
"It's obvious that someone is going to have to change their minds."
The commissioners respond by eaucusing behind closed doors for 10 minutes, but still failed to reach a solution.
WSSC Chairman Johanna Norris said later that she believed the graduated structure would "pass another day. But we can't go forward with it now." In an interview after the meeting, Norris said she was in favour of graduated rates, but would continue to support only a flat rate rise from $1,095 to $1,615 this year.
Public misconceptions about the $4,150 rate - and the political effect of that publicity, shesaid - forced her and the other Prince George's commissioers to vote against the graduated plan.
"I think the one big fear by the public is the $4,100 rate," said Vislosky before the commission. "And that is Why I cannot vote along with Montgomery couty."
The proposal favored by McGary and the Montgomery commissions would have raised connection rates for few homes in undeveloped areas from $1,095 to $1,100. Rates for connections for existing homes with septic tanks would have risen to $1,525 and connections for new houses in developed areas would have jumped to $4,150.
Norris opened debate on the new rates by rading a four-Page letter from Prince George's county chief administrative officer Robert E. Wilson including a list of questions about the graduated rates. The letter recommended that the commissioners leave sewer hookups at their present rate, for existing homes and raise them to $1,615 for all new developments while the questions were studied.
Kelly endorsed Wilson's recommendation Tuesday. as did the Prince George's County Council.
But Scotton and Berkman, both Montogomery commissioners, immediately attacked the proposal. Pointing out that each county had had two-months to study the proposals, Berkman said it was "not necessary to answer Mr. Wilson's questions," because most of them had been already addressed by the WSSC staff. In any event, she said, it was the responsibility of the commissioners to clear up' questions about the rates and be prepared to vote when the issue came up.
The current impasse continues a feud between Montgomery and Prince George's commissioners that has been fought over two separate issues in the past several months. In September, Montgomery refused to approve $500 million in water and sewer projects in Prince George's because Prince George's would not approve Montgomery's building plan for sewer treatment facilities.