March 29, 2011

Did taxpayers get soaked for pumping station construction?

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Have you ever been double-billed for an item? It makes you kind of steamed, doesn't it? That's why some Montgomery County Councilmembers appeared to get a little hot under the collar in a briefing on the Inspector General's report that suggests there are "questionable payments" in the financing of a pumping station and main in the West Germantown Development District.

Inspector General Thomas Dagley issued a report that indicates developers were paid twice for the Hoyles Mill Wastewater Pumping Station -- once by the county and once by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

The project dates back to 1998 when County Attorney Marc Hansen said the county was trying to encourage development, so it acted like a bank, and helped finance projects like the construction of a pumping station. "The developer had to pay money back to the county as the developer sold properties, and the obligation to repay the county was passed on to the homebuyer," he said.

"The people who did buy the homes, they paid twice," said Councilmember Hans Riemer, during a briefing where members of the Montgomery County Council's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee struggled to follow the flow of funding in the project.

But it's the position of Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett's staff that the IG has it all wrong. In a memorandum dated March 15, Chief Administrative Officer for the County Tim Firestine denies Dagley's suggestion that there were double payments to the developers.

"This is not the case. The two infrastructure financing mechanisms [used in the pumping station construction] are indeed complex, especially when both are present. But the actions by both County agencies were appropriate," he says.

That and the explanations in the briefing weren't enough for Councilmembers Nancy Floreen, Council President Valerie Ervin and Councilmember Marc Elrich.

"We're not done here," Elrich said, as the group tried to pin down precise numbers from the county executive appointees.

Elrich told the appointees to "bring spreadsheets" the next time the panel comes before the council. Ervin said more examination is needed since questions about complex funding for development projects, dating back to what she referred to as "the Clarksburg debacle... keep coming back like a bad penny."

But Council member Roger Berliner had a different take on the issue. In citing the confusion the funding mechanism was causing, he challenged the inspector general to defend his work and questioned whether Dagley was "simply repeating allegations." SOURCE: WTOP

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