(Nov. 29, 2019) A second public hearing for standard sewer flow calculations was held last Tuesday by the Worcester County Commissioners, but ended with the proposal being sent back for another rewrite.
The two major issues the commissioners discussed during their session were the sewer flow chart and the reconsideration process for equivalent dwelling units (EDUs). The sewer flow chart details typical uses and the number of EDUs it would need, based on 40 years of county data and textbook information.
On Aug. 20, the commissioners asked county government’s water and sewer committee to add a reconsideration process to the standard calculations to ensure a fair process for commercial property owners. However, the sewer committee advised against that action because it could complicate allocation and finances for the county, sewer plant and the property owner.
The reconsideration process, as proposed, states that new non-residential water and sewer customers can request an audit of the property EDU allocation within three years from the date of issue. Only claims of 20 percent overuse, or two EDUs, will be accepted and requests are only in whole number of EDUs.
The application must include proof that the project is operating at no less than 95 percent of its occupancy limitations and daily sewer flow calculations for at least 180 consecutive days between May 15 and Sept. 15.
If the project is using less, the property owner would be entitled to a reduction and refund. If the project is using more, then the property owner would be required to immediately purchase the necessary additional EDUs, if available.
County Commissioner Jim Bunting was concerned that the reconsideration process did not include uses that are covered in the sewage chart, as well as the fact that the reconsideration would be at the back end of the process.
County attorney Maureen Howarth asked Bunting to clarify if he wanted to modify the section that addresses uses not in the flow table and delete the reconsideration process. If a project is not addressed in the flow table, staff from environmental programs, public works and the treasurer’s office will estimate the EDU requirement based on available data, neighboring jurisdictions, local experience and other reputable sources. The property owner will enter an allocation agreement with the county to monitor usage for 24 months after project completion.
“I’m not the expert,” Bunting. “I’m just saying that the term reconsideration process sounds like it’s something you do at the end and the county would be forced to buy back the excess the person or developer doesn’t need. I’m saying look at it up front, and if the developer has science that says he only needs this, we start with that and we look forward from there. If he uses less, that’s his problem because he’s the one that came to us with the number. If he uses more, he has to buy more or cut back on what he’s using.”
County Commissioner Chip Bertino expressed a worry about what happens when a new owner takes over a building. Ed Tudor, director of review and permitting, explained that when the building tenant changes, they do have to get a permit. However, if that person doesn’t tell the department that they are not using the same equipment and consequently has a more intense usage, the department would never know.
Bob Mitchell, director of environmental programs, presented the proposal and explained that most mechanical equipment is locked in and difficult to change, and that most equipment is moving toward water conservation.
During the public comment, attorney Mark Cropper explained that the reconsideration process should be examined by either the board of appeals, planning commission or county commissioners.
“If the developer disagrees with a decision of staff, there is somebody other than staff that reviews that decision,” Cropper said. “I’m not being critical of staff. Staff is fallible like anyone else.”
He did agree that the reconsideration process should be at the front end, as did Palmer Gillis, of the contracting firm Gillis Gilkerson. Gillis added that the reconsideration process should also be for uses that are addressed in the flow chart, since he believes that medical offices don’t use as much as the flow chart currently states.
County Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic then sparred with Mitchell over whether the county should buy back EDUs if a developer proves the use isn’t as much as required.
“If it’s less, then you’re still within the average flow,” said Mitchell, who believed that it wasn’t a problem if the project uses less than expected.
“If we’re going to go one way, we got to go the other,” said Mitrecic, who also pointed out that only looking at EDU increases would benefit the county, rather than reward the developer who is using water conserving equipment.
Diana Purnell, president of Worcester County Commissioners, expressed frustration that this issue has gone back and forth from the commissioners to the sewer committee for months.
“We have to come together on some kind of agreement,” Purnell said. “We just cannot keep sending it back and telling you guys that what you’re doing is not right, because that’s not fair either.”
To try to put an end to the months-long effort, Mitrecic moved to have an appeal process when the developer is assigned the number of EDUs. The developer can choose to go with the flow chart and not go through a reconsideration process, or to sign a flow agreement and take the risk that he or she could be required to buy more EDUs, but could also have the county buy back excess EDUs.
Bertino asked that the rewrite be brought back to the commissioners to ensure that what they requested is what the sewer committee writes.