Washington Grove braces for higher energy, trash costs

Expenses include waste pickup, power and legal fees

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

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Tom Roff⁄Special to The Gazette
Mayor John Compton speaks at the annual Washington Grove town meeting Saturday night.

Washington Grove faces increased expenses related to such items as energy and trash collection, but the state of the town as it heads into its next fiscal year is good, leaders said Saturday.

A new contract awarded recently for trash collection ‘‘saw the costs of services increase dramatically from the last time,” Mayor John Compton said at the small Gaithersburg-area town’s annual town meeting, referring to a new three-year deal with Montgomery County Sanitation that will nudge dwelling charges up $82 per household.

Compton, re-elected by 65 votes to an eighth term, also offered updates on town projects — among them preserving the historic ‘‘Humpback Bridge” — that may require hefty legal expenses as the town continues grappling to balance its identity as a placid, rural refuge with the realities of encroaching development.

But speaking to about 60 people packed into the town’s McCathran Hall on an evening cool enough to eventually require that windows be shut and five ceiling fans be turned off, Compton also used the traditional gathering to review progresses made over the previous year and approve a proposed budget.

With approval of the $493,707 fiscal 2007 budget, the town’s property tax rate will remain unchanged — 20 cents per $100 of assessed value, which, because of increased assessments, will add $65 to the average tax bill on owner-occupied properties, according to town authorities.

This year’s budget is $15,749 higher than last year’s.

The boost in the dwelling tax, linked directly to the costs of the town’s new trash collection contract, comes as the town expects to pay $46,161 for these services over the $27,625 earmarked in last year’s budget.

Residents also listened as Compton reviewed efforts the town had made over the last fiscal year, mainly several ordinances: one, a zoning law, that restricts the development of schools, churches and nonprofits to stave off increased traffic in the pedestrian-friendly town.

Another ordinance, ‘‘possibly the most important,” Compton noted, concerned municipal infractions and ‘‘essentially authorized the town to collect fines through civil penalties by going to court to collect the fines that we had already been authorized to apply.”

Among the potentially costly projects whose futures are unclear is the Humpback — or Deer Park — bridge, which the county has long pushed to replace but that Washington Grove and Gaithersburg would like to see preserved.

‘‘While we all hope that the plan to replace the bridge will just quietly go away for another 15 years,” that seems unlikely, Compton said, meaning the town must continue ‘‘to build a case for preservation of the bridge in its current, one-lane state.”

Other items shrouded in some uncertainty but that remain on the town’s radar are the town’s efforts to purchase a 12-acre meadow of the nearby Casey Farm to guard it from development as well as their hope to annex a two-acre tract of land near the town.

Councilman Darrell Anderson won re-election to a sixth term, while Kathie Evans, a town resident who has not held an elected position there before, was elected to replace Tom Land, who did not run.

Compton thanked a litany of town leaders and residents for their help with projects ranging from running the town Web site to picking up street litter to changing light bulbs at the top of the hours-long meeting, which adjourned about 11 p.m.

‘‘That exhausts all the required business,” Compton said before the crowd convened for a reception, ‘‘if not all of us.”