- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The home of an 88-year-old Hollywood man is heading to tax sale for unpaid bills for sewer service he is not using or even connected to. County Commissioner Dan Morris (R) said he is not going to allow that to happen.
Officials of the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission said last week they have done everything possible to accommodate the situation under the law.
“There’s no need for this,” Morris said. “You don’t throw a 90-year-old man out on the street. If they wait until the property is sold, they’ll get their money. But they don’t want to do that, they want it now.”
It makes “no sense to take people’s money for nothing. It’s highway robbery,” said Combs Toney, 88. “I’ve been paying for nothing.”
He has been paying sewer bills to MetCom for several years, even though his home was never connected into the central sewer line installed there, as required.
At one point, Toney owed MetCom $4,500, but now owes $657 after MetCom waived a connection charge and its late fees. MetCom also granted several deferrals to connect since its officials became aware he never linked into the sewer system.
Using federal dollars, a central sewer system was installed in the area of Hollywood Road and McIntosh Road in the early 1990s to replace failed septic systems there, said Jacquelyn Meiser, MetCom attorney.
Residents in the service area had six months to connect, and through various grant programs the out-of-pocket cost to do so was minimal.
“Most people did this,” Meiser said. “Mr. Toney did not apply and he didn’t connect. Everything went merrily along for quite some time,” she said.
“In this case he just started paying service charges and did for ... years without receiving any service,” she said, though the home should have been connected to the sewer system.
In 2006, MetCom learned the home was not connected and a five-year extension was granted. Toney still paid monthly bills during this time, Meiser said.
From 2007 to 2011, the service charges were waived, but when the extension ended, those charges came back, including a $3,700 one-time connection fee.
More extensions were granted, and the MetCom board worked on a special deferral based on Toney’s age and financial situation, Meiser said.
Using the standards of the Maryland Energy Assistance Program on income, it was determined “he makes more than twice the standard so he doesn’t qualify” for financial hardship, Meiser said.
The charges on Toney’s account started to accrue. Water and sewer charges are by Maryland law considered the same as property taxes — they have to be paid, Meiser said, or else the property goes to tax sale.
“We can’t say it’s OK not to pay,” she said, to any customers.
The latest deferral granted to Toney to connect to the sewer line is based on the ongoing work of a county government task force to study connection issues to water and sewer services. “There’s no way to know when that work’s all going to be finished,” Meiser said. The $3,700 connection fee and other late charges were waived and “his bill is back down to the minimum it can be,” she said, at $657, based on the $59-a-month sewer fee.
However, “it is going to tax sale for nonpayment. That’s nothing our board can do anything about or the county commissioners can do anything about. That’s the law. The only way around that is to amend the law,” she said.
“I don’t mind paying an honest bill,” Toney said. “My record is very good that I paid.”
“If he would just pay his bill like he has been for 20 years, he wouldn’t be going to tax sale,” Meiser said.
The sale will be held in late February or early March.
“If it comes to tax sale, I will approach my church for donations,” Morris said.
However, even if that bill is paid, Toney’s home still has to connect to the sewer system, said Dan Ichniowski, MetCom director.
The St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management can remove the sewer allocation from the property and Morris said that office is working on that.
“That would take away every charge,” Meiser said, but it wouldn’t be consistent with the rest of the sewer service area and would decrease the value of the property. The next owner of the home wouldn’t be able to connect to sewer service without the approved connection.
There is a waiting list now for new sewer connections in Leonardtown, she said.
Phil Shire, director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management, checked with the county health department and Toney’s “septic system is good, so there’s no urgent need to connect” to sewer.
He is waiting on the written request to remove the property’s sewer allocation.