Maybe, Relief On Camden Sewer Rates

Posted: March 23, 1988

Camden City residents could receive a break on their sewer bills under a plan to tax suburban developers and landowners who would benefit from the extension of sewers to their property.

The proposal, being drafted by county and state officials, comes in response to the lobbying of city residents, who have sought relief from the annual $275 sewer fee in return for having Camden County's sewer plant in their midst.

Officials have been looking for a way to ease the burden on city residents without boosting the cost to current suburban homeowners.

Compensating city residents by taxing the windfall gain of large property owners might entice the state legislature to help eliminate the fees for city residents, Assemblyman Wayne R. Bryant (D., Camden) said yesterday.

"It might be more palatable to the state," Bryant said.

Along with Sen. Walter Rand (D., Camden), Bryant has been pressing the legislature to spend about $75 million - $7.5 million in Camden alone - to pick up the tab for sewers in communities around the state that host large sewer plants.

The county freeholders plan to back the legislators' proposal, according to Freeholder Director Robert E. Andrews, who suggested the funding plan to Bryant.

"Those who are going to benefit," said Andrews, "should be responsible for bearing at least some of the cost and providing relief to have the disadvantages of the system. . . . People who live in South Camden are burdened with that sewer plant so people who own tracts of land in Voorhees are richer."

Current ratepayers, Andrews said, would not face an increase in their bills.

The recent extension of sewers into several Camden County communities have made new development possible and thus boosted the value of the properties there, he said. Among these communities, he said, are Voorhees, Berlin Township, Collingswood, Haddon Township, Haddonfield, Haddon Heights and much of Cherry Hill.

Bryant said the bill, which should be introduced by the end of the month, could eliminate the entire bill paid by city residents. Most businesses would not receive a break on their bills.

Two weeks ago, more than 1,500 Camden residents packed a meeting to urge the state legislature to relieve the $10 million-a-year burden posed to the city by the county sewer system. Officials estimate that $7.5 million of the cost is billed to residents and not businesses.

Advocates of relief for the city have also cited the fact that only one- third of the sewer-system customers in Camden have paid their most recent bills - compared with a 75 to 80 percent average in the rest of the county.

The plan to pay the city's bills from fees levied on land opened to new development won the praise of Stephen J. Kessler, chairman of the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority.

"Sewer fees are high not just in Camden, but all over," he said. "I'm for it wholeheartedly."

But Kessler, who works as a tax assessor, warned that the proposed tax should be levied only on profit-oriented developers. For instance, he said, landowners who wanted their child to build a house on their property should not be taxed.

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