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Town votes against warranty partnership

Danielle Ryan

(12/14) After months of discussion and research by the town’s Board of Commissioners and staff, Emmitsburg voted against the warranty partnership with Utility Service Partners (USP) at the December 5 town meeting.

The warranty partnership with USP was first presented and discussed back in July. As presented, the program is designed to address the public policy issue of aging infrastructure for homeowners, since many communities focus primarily on maintaining public infrastructure. If the town had chosen to utilize this program, they would have partnered with USP to make the program voluntarily available to all residents in Emmitsburg. The program would have provided homeowners with an optional warranty on external water lines, external sewer lines and in-home plumbing.

The program would have offered three products for homeowners who chose to sign up. The external sewer line warranty costs $7.75 per month; the external water line product costs $5.75 per month; and the in-home plumbing product costs $9.99 per month. Residents would not have been required to commit for any particular length of time, as the program didn’t have an annual contract. Anything that impeded the sewer, water or plumbing lines would have been susceptible for repair, $8,500 of the costs would have been covered under the warranty.

After the Board voiced some concerns over potential litigation and the repercussions from endorsing a single company, Town Manager Cathy Willets spoke with Town Attorney John Clapp. Clapp found no law that would prohibit the town from endorsing the product. Also, he believed that endorsing the program would not create any binding precedent that would require the town to endorse any similar products in the future. He did mention that if the Board would choose to vote in favor of the partnership, he would like to see USP insert language in the agreement stating that the warranty partnership is an independent company and is not affiliated with the town in any way and that the town would assume no responsibility or liability for the products being offered.

Only Mayor Don Briggs and Commissioner Cliff Sweeney were in favor of the partnership. Commissioner Tim O’Donnell agreed that there is a need for this type of product but he doesn’t agree with the presentation as the town partnering on the product and solely endorsing one company. He also mentioned that he didn’t agree with the possibility of the town realizing a profit from this service. In a past meeting, it was also mentioned that the prices presented are not guaranteed to remain the same, instead there is the possibility of an incremental increase in the prices every year. Commissioner Joe Ritz also noted that this is not the only program that offers this type of service, with a little research other services that are very similar but don’t require the town’s endorsement can, and already have been, found.

However, Sweeney and Mayor Briggs spoke to say that many people in the town would benefit from this service. Mayor Briggs felt as though the program appeals to the people who live in the older part of town and Sweeney felt as though the need was great for those in the community living on small or fixed income.

In the end, the Board asked for a motion in support of the partnership, but no motion was made. In a last remark, Commissioner Sweeney said, "I think it’s a big mistake for the town not to have the program."

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