Sen. Michael Hough has helped secure $1 million in the state's capital budget to pay for water infrastructure improvements in Emmitsburg.
The money will be used for a water clarifier, which — if the General Assembly passes Gov. Larry Hogan's (R) budget — would be installed west of town, near a water treatment structure near Crystal Fountain Road.
Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) said he contacts officials from the 11 municipalities in his district in the fall before each legislative session to figure out what they need money for. He heard about the infrastructure issues that have led to brown water, and he said he made it a top priority this session to get some money allocated in the governor's capital budget to combat those.
The $1 million isn't quite enough to pay for the entire clarifier. Emmitsburg Mayor Don Briggs said the total cost is roughly $1.4 million, and he and town staff will discuss during a meeting with town commissioners next month how to pay that remaining cost.
But Briggs thanked Hough for taking lead on the issue and the entire delegation for their support when Emmitsburg officials ask for help.
Town officials have been busy building an advanced wastewater treatment plant, which cost about $19.5 million, the mayor said. And Emmitsburg has been replacing old water lines throughout town during the past several years, as they have started to age, Briggs added.
Hough said that latter point is a key issue not just in Emmitsburg, but in similar jurisdictions across the county. According to a report from last year, about 45 percent of household incomes in the county's northernmost municipality are below United Way's Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employment (ALICE) line, meaning they struggle to pay for basic needs.
Many small towns don't have the tax base to single-handedly pay for projects like water infrastructure improvements, Hough said.
"If you look at a lot of these municipalities … a lot of the original infrastructure was laid in the 19th century, when the town was laid out," Hough said. "And a lot of them struggle with poverty issues."
Joe Ritz, one of Emmitsburg's commissioners, was thankful for Hough's work locking in the funding. Ritz said it's nice to know state money still flows to small towns like Emmitsburg, which has a population of about 3,100.
Still, Briggs and Ritz acknowledged the $1 million is just one piece of many things that need to happen in order to ensure clean water for residents long-term.
"Obviously, what has been put into place seems to be helping the matter, but we have a lot further to go in ensuring our water system is up to date," Ritz said.