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June 25, 2004

This Family Feud Is No Game

Alan Imhoff

In one of my previous articles I related how government suffers from a lack of institutional memory, primarily for two reasons. The first is the opportunity to change those at the helm every four years. The second is the ever-increasing turnover of governmental staff that provides those at the helm with the information to make decisions.

Add to these reasons, a variable - instant "expert-itis" on those who accede to the helm and you have a volatile mix that produces some horrendous results for us, the average taxpayer.

The most recent example of this condition is the growing posturing taking place between two governmental bodies that for all intents and purposes should have had a solution in hand, years, if not decades ago.

I refer to the ever widening problem of "water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink" with regards to the Potomac River water line.

One would think - that with all the planning and the very basic nature of the subject - that a very simple agreement would have been worked out months ago, all the language nuances agreed to and all that would be needed is a simple vote by both parties.

But no! Enter the labyrinth of bureaucracies, season with legal layers of intent and top it off with perhaps 11 different mindsets and political agendas and what do you get? Yet another government at it's best in protecting everybody's interest but no one's wallet.

For me personally it is a travesty that due to what seems to be immutable laws of institutional memory listed above, current taxpayers are seeing the result of over two decades of inaction by both the City of Frederick and the Board of County Commissioners. So between the general taxpayer paying for a host of inefficiencies in government preparedness and the users of the water systems we will all be saddled for a long time to come by the cost of this solution.

Twenty years ago I served as the president of the Lake Linganore Homeowners Association. At that time we had private water and sewer systems and the second largest private lake in Maryland. The Board of Directors knew we had to have public water and sewer for the future and we entered in discussions with the county as to how best to accomplish that goal.

During those discussions, several related topics were added to the agenda. With the City of Frederick under Mayor Ron Young, we drew up agreements to provide a guaranteed flow-by in Linganore Creek for the city's water treatment plant located downstream from our dam. With Alderman Betty Floyd and others, we worked with the State of Maryland on improving "D.O." (dissolved oxygen) levels in the Monocacy River.

With the county we entered into planning for regionalization of the water and sewer systems to include sewer outfall on the Potomac and - yes this is for real - a water intake and feeder line from the Potomac to the county's Ballenger Creek plant. A backup system of lines was planned to handle most low flow situations that might arise through an interconnection of many of the areas water systems.

The county embarked on a program to purchase a number of private water and sewer systems from Braddock Heights to Lake Linganore. Much of those plans were achieved, as developers were required to build into that system. One crucial element that was left out was deciding on the final route of the water line from the Potomac to Ballenger Creek and the most crucial portion, not incrementally, purchasing rights-of-way necessary for construction of that line during these past 20 years.

So what was expensive then has now become exorbitant.

But, back to this "family feud" between an overbearing parent and the upstart first born. While I have not read the document in question, news reports indicate that way too many conditions have been placed by the parent (Board of County Commissioners) on what should be a simple issue. The first born in essence is in danger of losing a substantial amount of the legal rights granted when coming of age (State Charter).

Let's bring this "feud" back to normal. Produce a simple agreement that says in essence, the City of Frederick will assist the County in the capital cost of constructing this water line in exchange for a perpetual right to some amount of water on an annual basis. In addition, the City of Frederick will pay, through user fees, a set amount per million gallons used. Nothing more, nothing less.

Placing anything else into the agreement is a potential abridgment of rights articulated in the City's Charter and places the two entities in a position for further "estrangement" in this "family feud".

Why do we continue to accept the two reasons mentioned at the beginning as excuses for doing things poorly? Perhaps most telling, we seem to be willing to accept the cost by allowing the lack of institutional memory to continue.

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