Residents questioning rate increases from private sewer systems

Sussex County officials are planning an informational session for county council members to hear about sewer rate increases that are being reported around the county.

Councilman George Cole said at the council’s Oct. 18 meeting that he had received a number of letters from constituents in recent weeks about rate increases from private sewer systems and their impacts on residents. Councilwoman Joan Deaver said she, too, had received similar letters from her constituents in the Lewes area.

“I’ve had a number of letters … and emails from people who said they very concerned and asking how can this happen and what can we do,” Cole said. “There’s not much we can do,” he added, noting that the County had granted sewer franchises to private companies in the past and now has no control over the issue in areas where those private companies provide service.

“I would like to invite the people who provide private sewer systems in this county … and have them explain to us why we’re seeing these rate increases,” Cole continued. “A lot of people say, ‘Why can’t you take it over?’ I’d like to get to the bottom of this, straighten it out and clear the air.”

Cole said he’d also like the private companies to provide information on exactly what kinds of increases are being instituted and where the impacted customers are located.

“I don’t have the answers, and I think it would be helpful,” he said.

Deaver pointed out that regulation of private sewer systems and their rates happens at the state level, under the Public Service Commission. But Cole said he’d still like the county council to get involved, for the sake of constituents – and those who represent them.

“I would like to have this meeting for information for the council,” he said. “And I’d like to have it before the end of the year.”

“I tell them it’s probably because the development didn’t go like [developers] thought it would,” Cole said of what information he could provide to impacted property owners, noting that initial sewer rates are often based on projected sales and residency over a period of time. “People who bought into this are finding out they’re bearing the entire financial burden.”

Though he, too, agreed that the council does not have any control over rates charged by private sewer systems, County Engineer Mike Izzo said he could understand Cole’s desire to have such a meeting between County officials and the sewer companies. “Mr. Cole is proposing an information session. As long as the council doesn’t take any action … it just asks them to explain.”

Deaver noted that four or five communities in her district are being asked to pay rates as much as 90 percent above their current rates.

Outgoing County Administrator David Baker will be organizing the informational session on the issue. No date for the meeting has been announced.