The Post may wish to remind its Montgomery County subscribers that 40-some years ago there was another drought. The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) requested conservation of water usage. The response was so great and the use of water so small, billing did not produce enough income for the WSSC to meet its payroll. It had to increase its rates. You can look it up.


Falls Church

To those citizens of Montgomery and Prince George's counties who believe that selling the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission to a private company would be a "billion dollar financial windfall for the counties" ["Hearings Begin on Selling Suburban Water-Sewer Agency," Metro, July 29], I have a piece of advice: Hold on to your wallets.

WSSC's customers, past and present, already have paid for most of the commission's assets through their water and sewer bills. If it were sold to a private company, the new owner would begin to charge these same customers to cover its costs for interest and return on equity. The cost to the average customer would be approximately $125 per year for each billion dollars of sales price, according to the consultant hired by the state legislature's task force on WSSC privatization. The consultant's report also states that, while difficult to estimate, the value of WSSC assets is probably at least $3 billion.

So the result of selling WSSC would be a $1 billion to $3 billion windfall for the two counties "to be used for roads, schools, etc." and a rate increase of $125 to $375 per year for us customers. It sure sounds like a back-door tax increase.

And because the WSSC was created by the Maryland legislature, many people believe that this windfall would have to go to the state treasury and not to the two counties. The legislature itself would have to decide who gets the money.

Those advocating this asset sale dismiss these costs to the customer by claiming that the new owners would operate the water and wastewater systems so much more efficiently than WSSC is doing that all of these costs (and more, such as income and property taxes and the need to make a profit) would be offset. Even if such a startling claim were true, the task force report notes that WSSC itself is significantly reducing its staff and increasing efficiency, using many of the same methods of the private companies, and that these efforts could lead to rate reductions of 10 percent to 25 percent. If WSSC accomplishes this, it is hard to see how selling it to a private company would be in the best interests of its customers.

As one such customer, I would oppose such a sale, for environmental reasons as well as financial ones. Despite all of the outlandish claims being made by the advocates of privatization, there is, and always will be, no such thing as a free lunch.


Glenn Dale, Md.