Some Calvert residents could see their water and sewer bills triple or quadruple if the Board of Commissioners authorizes a plan to charge a uniform rate for those services throughout the county.

Any switch to a new rate structure would not occur for at least another year.

The tradeoff for that potentially higher rate, however, would be the elimination of the disproportionately large bills faced by residents served by smaller water and sewer systems, particularly when repairs have to be made to the equipment serving their communities.

"If you go to the one rate, you don't have the large jump," commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) said.

Residents with access to central water and sewer service now pay rates that vary depending on the system in their community.

Discussion of the proposed change in the rate structure -- presented to the commissioners Tuesday -- is in the early stages. The commissioners have decided that any change would not go into effect for the 2005 fiscal year, which starts July 1. They also told staff members studying the possible change that it is much too premature even to present the plan to the public.

County budget analyst Tammy McCourt wrote in a memo to the commissioners that "the approach has been that each system was expected to pay for itself independently. This has not proven a workable model, resulting in many of the smaller systems falling behind in maintenance because there was no money available to address problems."

But money would have to be raised to perform necessary repairs and upgrades throughout the county if the uniform rate system is adopted, officials said.

"Now that we are aware of the needs within each system, to generate the money needed to address them would require very large rate increases to the smallest systems with the fewest users," McCourt wrote.

Rate increases may also be needed to cover day-to-day costs. "We have to make sure we're covering our operating costs," Terry L. Shannon, the county's director of administration and finance, said.

During Tuesday's discussion, commissioners raised concerns that while the uniform rate system would prevent any county resident from paying a disproportionately high rate, it could nonetheless result in others facing triple or quadruple their current rates.

"These are significant increases, not just for residential, but also commercial," Commissioner Gerald W. Clark (R-Lusby) said.

Consequently, the county might attempt to gradually raise the water and sewer rates.