Another water district proposal pitched for Ellendale area

ELLENDALE – Ellendale-area residents seeking to tap into a county-based public water system are hoping the third time is the charm.

Sussex County Council June 26 approved a revised boundary of the proposed Greater Ellendale Water District – nearly eight months after a water district pitch that encompassed the town of Ellendale was narrowly defeated in a Nov. 4, 2017 referendum.

John Ashman, Sussex County’s director of utility planning, informed county council the request for the revised petitions was received shortly after that vote.

“We have received the number of required petitions to proceed with the process of trying to establish a water district,” said Mr. Ashman. “This is a community-driven effort. They actually requested the petitions. We produced them. They actually went around and did the circulation and got the signatures.”

If the referendum passes, the county will contract with Artesian Water Company to supply the water to the customers, Mr. Ashman said.

An initial attempt several years ago involving the county to establish a water district in Ellendale also failed to win voter approval.

With revised boundary approval, the Sussex County Engineering Department will now proceed with the public hearing, set for Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Philadelphia Pentecostal Holiness Church.

Sussex County Engineer Hans Medlarz said the county has been in contact with Artesian to confirm their willingness to serve established statewide bulk rates or better as well as Artesian’s “continued willingness to cooperate on the capital expenses and coordinate them.”

Sussex County has also alerted the drinking water component of the State Revolving Loan Fund of the project as well as USDA. “So, we again are putting all the backstops in place prior to the public hearing to make sure when we go to public hearing we present a solid case,” said Mr. Medlarz.

The revised boundary approved by council does overlap some of town boundary. “The reason for that is common sense. We’re running pipe down Old State Boulevard, customers on both sides, so it just sort of makes sense to connect them,” said Mr. Ashman. “There is a scattered amount of petitions on both east and west side of roadway.”

The referendum proposal defeated last November by a 120-107 margin called for Sussex County to contract with Artesian Water Company to supply water to the customers. In addition, Artesian would perform maintenance on hydrants, valves and water main as well as general operations and maintenance.

Billing services would have been provided by Sussex County.

Under that proposal, the estimated average household cost annually was about $400 based on consumption and front-footage cost. Non-profits such as fire companies and churches would not pay front footage costs.

For the November 2017 referendum, the county’s established baseline cost estimate with Artesian was $6.58 per 1,000 gallons for bulk supply.

County councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, had several questions.

“How about controlling rates? Will the county have any impact on the rate? If there is a grievance by a user, it is a county system. Where does the county fit in with the rates? Because every once in a while, I‘ve heard that some of these private water companies, the rates are very high and they are subject to change,” said Mr. Cole.

“This is a statewide bulk water rate which is set by the Public Service Commission,” Mr. Medlarz explained. “We, Sussex County, will be customer. There is only one customer. That is us. We are then using that bulk water and re-selling it at the same rate; no mark-up, no change, to the individual customers who will receive a county water bill based on their consumption.”

“With no mark-up what about maintenance and things that happen over the years?” Mr. Cole asked.

“We had previously had arrangement with Artesian, which I confirmed, that for that bulk rate where they normally would not do any maintenance of valves, hydrants, etc, in this particular case the water company is willing to assume the maintenance,” said Mr. Medlarz.

“You said that we are re-selling it for the exact same price. But there is an expense to this county because we are doing the billing. Are we losing any money on this service that we are providing to the residents?” asked councilman Rob Arlett, R-Frankford.

“We have an arrangement which we have as I said confirmed with the water company, that they would provide the bulk of reading of the meters. They have remote-sensor meters, which we install. They just drive by. They give us the data. We populate the data. We generate the billing in conjunction with our sewer billing,” said Mr. Medlarz. “Is there zero effort? No. Is it a small effort? Yes.  So, we agreed … to make this very desirable project feasible that we would assume that function.”

Councilman Irwin “I.G.” Burton, R-Lewes, noted this is the county’s third attempt to establish a water district in Ellendale.

“We’ve been at this a couple times. Is there a limit to the number of times this opportunity presents itself?” Mr. Burton asked.

“If the referendum fails, 50 new petitions roll in, and it starts over again,” said Mr. Medlarz.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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