OAKLAND — The Garrett County commissioners and the Department of Public Works —Utilities Division held a public hearing Monday afternoon at the courthouse on water district boundary changes at Deep Creek Lake.
“We are proposing to change the Thayerville and McHenry water service boundaries to include a small section of Deep Creek Drive between the Rt. 219 bridge over Deep Creek Lake and Gravelly Run Road,” said Pat Hudnall, Utilities Division chief.
The county also wants to combine the two districts into one, which would be called the Deep Creek Lake Water Service Area.
Hudnall noted that ad valorem tax rates will be affected. McHenry customers are currently paying $.05 per $100 of assessed value on improved and unimproved property. For Thayerville, the cost is $.24 per $100 of assessed value.
“Once combined, the tax rate will be $.10 per $100 of assessed property value on improved and unimproved parcels across both service areas,” Hudnall said. “This would take effect in next year’s tax cycle.”
He indicated that combining the two systems, in part, was in preparation for the Hoyes Run Road project, which is two to three years from being constructed, and to provide an additional water source for McHenry.
“MDE (Maryland Department of the Environment) is going to view this as an alternative water source/supply for the McHenry system, should we run into issues with the Hoyes Run project down the road,” Hudnall said.
He stressed, however, that the new Deep Creek Lake Water Service Area would only be a possible backup for Hoyes Run, not a substitute for that project.
“It will only supplement what we need,” Hudnall said. “This won’t carry enough water to meet all of our demands in McHenry.”
Commissioner Paul Edwards indicated ad valorem rate changes, therefore, are inevitable.
Two people voiced their opinions at the hearing. Del. Wendell Beitzel asked that the county extend the proposed Deep Creek Lake Water Service Area boundary up to the intersection of Rt. 219 and Rt. 42. This would enable the Maryland State Police barrack and Northern Garrett Rescue Squad to connect to the system if they so desired.
“Please consider it,” Beitzel asked the commissioners.
McHenry water customer Robert Kelly reviewed the history of the original McHenry Water System expansion project. In 2011, he noted the ad valorem tax rate was expected to be between $.02 and $.04 per $100 of his assessed property.
“The residents were overwhelmingly opposed to the expansion of the system in 2011,” Kelly said, referring to a public hearing in which 200 people attended.
Kelly estimated that he is actually currently paying a $.13 ad valorem tax rate, or $717.47, a year. Under the new proposed rate, that would go up to $1,200 a year.
“We, the residents of McHenry, just get crucified,” he said about continual increases in water rates and other taxes. “It’s got to stop. There has to be innovate thinking to deal with this issue.”
He acknowledged that a $.02 to $.04 ad valorem rate was probably not realistic now. But he did suggest that a moratorium be placed on all Public Works projects until a financial study could be conducted by an independent company.
“I’m not opposed to this,” Kelly said about expanding the water system. “What I’m opposed to is my $717 going to a $1,200.”
He called conducting the independent study a “confidence builder.”
“I have no faith, and most people don’t have any faith, in the numbers thrown out, as you can see, by the Public Works department,” Kelly said.
The commissioners left the comment period open on the proposed McHenry and Thayerville water service boundary changes until Monday, Aug. 21. Maps of the areas are available for viewing online at garrettcounty.org.
The commissioners will hold their next public meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 22, at the Ryan’s Glade Community Center, Gorman, at 6 p.m.