By Kevin Dayhoff, Other Voices
Carroll County Times
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Last Wednesday, I attended the first meeting of the Bay Restoration Fund Advisory Committee. Gov. Robert Ehrlich appointed me to the committee to represent Maryland's 157 municipalities.
My first reaction after learning of the appointment was what have I gotten myself into? Paying more fees or taxes isn't necessarily popular with me or among us Carroll countians. Let's face it - being on the rules committee to advise MDE as to how to collect and administer Ehrlich's Bay Restoration Fund initiative, which will cost us more money out of our pocket, is not necessarily winning first prize.
But wait a minute, a portion of the revenue flow created by the Bay Restoration Fund is earmarked for four of our Sewage Treatment Plants in Carroll County, directly affected by federal regulations and it is important that Carroll County have a voice in this matter. Odd thing about these regulations is that they were not funded. They make the rules - we pay the bills.
For Westminster alone, the cost of implementing the recent spat of environmental regulations for our Water Treatment and Wastewater Treatment Plants could cost $11 million. The total cost of the upgrades necessary for the four Sewage Treatment Plants in Carroll County as identified in this fund - Freedom District, Taneytown, Mt. Airy and Westminster - is over $9 million, with the other plants in the county to be considered for funding later. Now just how are we supposed to pay for this?
In the coming years, one of the most important challenges to our quality of life will be the availability of quality drinking water. It is a well accepted goal that improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay is important for its scenic and recreational value, but the health of the bay also has an enormous economic impact on all of us, and not just in the cost of crabs and seafood, but in jobs and economic development.
The piece that has been missing after many years of talking about the problems of water quality and availability and the bay is how provide the resources to meet these challenges. Yes, what we are talking about here is how are we are going to pay for the upgrades to the 66 major sewage treatment plants throughout the state. And, just as importantly, how is accountability going to be established for the money collected and the implementation of the upgrades.
Did the Bay Restoration Fund initiative make everyone happy? Certainly not. The legislation was the subject of heated debate and discussion throughout the 2004 General Assembly session. Often the right thing to do is not always popular. I personally applaud Ehrlich for having the leadership to not just talk about the health of the Bay, the environment and the quality of our drinking water, but to actually do something about it.
It has been identified that upgrading sewage treatment plants is necessary in order to improve the health of the bay and protect our drinking water supplies, and this is one of Ehrlich's top environmental priorities. However important the quality of drinking water is to all of us, the Bay Restoration Fund wasn't easy or necessarily the popular thing to do, but it is a small price to pay considering the value we will get for our money.
For once we have a governor who is aware that the map of Maryland goes from Ocean City to Western Maryland and all points in between, including Carroll County. It's nice to be on the map again.
The Bay Restoration Fund fee will appear on a water and sewer bill coming to your house after Jan. 1. Remember that the money is going to benefit Carroll County, jobs and economic development, your drinking water, the environment and the Chesapeake Bay. In the long run, $30 a year is probably less than what it would cost if local government had to raise water and sewer bills in order to pay for the federal and state unfunded mandates. By working together we can all do better.
Kevin Dayhoff is Mayor of Westminster. To submit a piece for Other Voices consideration, send it to: Other Voices, c/o Carroll County Times, 201 Railroad Avenue, Westminster, MD 21157.