Use of Front Footage Fees
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GEORGETOWN -- A public hearing on proposed sewer rates for the Ocean View expansion of the Bethany Beach Sanitary Sewer District turned into a debate over how the county charges for its sewer services at Sussex County Council's regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001.
Before unanimously approving a service of $195.10 per year and an annual front footage assessment of $3.68 per foot, Councilman George Cole and a part-time Ocean View resident engaged in a heated debate with County Administrator Robert L. Stickels and County Finance Director Dave Baker over how the county charges for its sewer projects.
Discussing an issue that County Solicitor Eugene Bayard said comes up every time a new sewer district is established, both Cole and Spencer Lampiers, an Ocean View property owner who lives in Gaithersburg, Md., objected to the county's continued use of a front footage assessment to cover capital costs>,?p>
Both argued that it is unfair to charge the same front footage tax for owners of vacant lots as for owners of improved properties who can avail themselves of the sewer services.
Councilman Cole said the county should investigate the feasability of using some type of flat rate structure for each Equivalent Dwelling Unit instead of the front footage assessment method.
Lampiers echoed Cole's sentiments, saying "It seems like you're taking advantage of myself certainly and other people who have a little more front footage. Why couldn't that (front footage charge) also be made an EDU charge?"
Baker said the county did calculate the rates on a per unit basis and that the average rate would rise from $563 per year based on the front footage system to $716 per year using an EDU system.
"I understand the concerns," Baker said. "But the front footage assessment is designed so lot owners can pay for construction of the sewer system. The other reason is the county has to install sewer pipe on those vacant lots and this is used to recover those capital costs."
Cole wasn't convinced, though, as he stuck to his belief that there should be one rate for owners of unimproved properties and another for owners of improved properties.
"Why could we not divide the cost by the number of buildable parcels?" Cole asked. "Most jurisdictions have gone to that. It would be more equitable. You add that up and it would be a lot less than $716, correct?"
Stickels answered, saying he seriously doubts the rates would be less than the $563 Ocean View property owners will pay. Baker added that such a change would require major changes to the county's billing system.
Reacting to a statement from Ocean View Town Manager Joseph Lobb that 75 percent of the lots in Ocean View are less than 100 feet in length, Council President Dale Dukes said, "If we did it by units as has been suggested this morning, then it would probably be more for those 75 percent."
Cole was not bowed, saying the county needs to thorougly investigate the issue considering that many other counties have devised different rate systems such as charging based on the number of bedrooms or fixtures in a home.
"Show us the numbers," said Cole. "I don't know why we won't do it here other than it would require some change."
Stickels bristled at the suggestion that the county hasn't studied the idea.
"We've done that for many years," he said. "We've broken it down by district for you. We've looked at this county-wide on your (Cole's) behalf and 65 percent of our users would have seen an increase. But, we'd be glad to change the system if council tells us that's what it wants."
Stickels added that there is an appeals process for property owners who want to dispute their assessments.
Before the debate, council unanimously approved an ordinance to amend the Fiscal Year 2002 budget to include projected revenues and expenses from the Ocean View expansion of the Bethany Beach Sanitary Sewer District. After the debate, council voted unanimously to accept the Ocean View rates and also approved adoption of the Ocean View Sewer Assessment Roll.In Other Business ...
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