- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A college professor walked into the offices of the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission on Friday and paid an elderly man’s sewer bills, which will keep Combs Toney’s Hollywood home of 83 years from going to tax sale in March.
Toney, 88, owed $719 for unpaid bills for sewer service he has never used or connected to, though he was supposed to have done so in the early 1990s. He said his septic system works just fine.
Toney was unaware Monday morning that someone had paid his MetCom bill. “My goodness gracious. I’d like to know who it was. God bless him,” he said.
Jacquelyn Meiser, MetCom attorney, confirmed Monday that Toney’s bill was paid. “His name will be removed from the tax sale list” she said, for now. But the monthly sewer bills will continue unless his home relinquishes its right to hook up to the public sewer line. Toney’s family has asked the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management to expunge that sewer allocation.
If the home’s septic system fails, however, it may be much more expensive to install a nitrogen-reducing septic system rather than connecting to central sewer, said Phil Shire, director of the land use office. He said he is waiting on a final decision from the family, but is not pressuring them one way or the other.
Todd Eberly, a political science associate professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, saw articles about the impending tax sale of Toney’s home in The Enterprise last month and last week. “I thought this seems crazy,” Eberly said. “Who would actually do this to an 88-year-old man?”
On Friday, he floated the idea of paying Toney’s bill to his wife, Christina. “Without even flinching, my wife said, ‘Go do it.’ I could not fathom the idea of this man losing his home over $700 for services he’s never even received,” Eberly said.
MetCom granted service charge waivers for Toney from 2007 to 2011 while he paid other account charges, and a five-year connection extension expired at the end of 2011. MetCom service charges resumed in 2012 and the MetCom board of directors tried to create a connection deferral for certain elderly people based on income. But Toney made more than the income threshold used by the Maryland Energy Assistance Program, Meiser said.
Not paying MetCom bills for water and sewer is the same as not paying St. Mary’s County government for property taxes, she said. MetCom’s authority is in Maryland law and can “only be revised by the Maryland General Assembly, and it’s been in place since 1957,” when MetCom was created, she said.
“The law is the law. We are not able to selectively apply the law,” she said.
“So much of this just seems like bureaucracy and paperwork,” Eberly said. “MetCom wasn’t going to back off.”
St. Mary’s County Commissioner Dan Morris (R), who brought attention to the impending tax sale of Toney’s home, said he was going to work with Southern Maryland lawmakers to add a level of protection before MetCom can take a home to tax sale, perhaps sending such cases first to district court. “It should have never gotten this far,” Morris said.
Other utilities like the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative or MetroCast Communications can’t put liens on property, Eberly said, and neither should MetCom. “It doesn’t have true oversight or true accountability,” he said. Eberly is also a MetCom customer.
The St. Mary’s County commissioners appoint the board directors for MetCom, and the commissioners have authority over MetCom’s building budget.
There are 132 other MetCom accounts in arrears heading to tax sale, Meiser said, out of more than 12,000 total accounts. Most of those accounts are paid before the tax sale, she said.
Toney said he has been in his home for 83 years. “This was my mother’s house,” he said. The home’s shallow well lasted for more than 50 years. When it went dry, another well was dug. The house needed water, not sewer service, he said.
“If I needed it, I would hook into it. If it were a good, honest bill, I wouldn’t mind paying it,” he said.