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Up go the water rates in Baltimore

P. Kenneth Burns

The Baltimore Board of Estimates approved Wednesday a multi-year increase in city water and sewer rates.  The board took the action after a nearly three hour public hearing in which everyone who testified opposed the increase.

The vote was 3-2.  Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake along with her appointees; Public Works Director Rudy Chow and Interim City Solicitor David Ralph, voted for the increase.  City Council President Jack Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt opposed it.

The mayor said the city’s water infrastructure has been “languishing for decades;” that the “can has been kicked down the road” and it needs to be modernized.

“It would be irresponsible of me, as a leader, at this time to continue to kick it down the road by not making the tough decisions that are necessary to put improvements in place,” she said.

The Bureau of Water and Wastewater, according to the city charter, must be self-sustaining.  Chow and Henry Raymond, the city’s finance director, must recommend rates to ensure the utilities are self-sustaining.

Citing state and federal mandates, plus the need to upgrade the aging infrastructure, Jay Price, acting head the bureau said the “vast majority” of the department’s funding comes from rate payers.

The average water rate will increase 9.9 percent a year through 2018.  Sewer rates will increase nine percent a year during the same period.  The first increase will take place Oct. 11 with subsequent increases taking effect on July 1 in 2017 and 2018.

The additional revenues will help pay for a six year, $1.3 billion, capital improvement project to rehabilitate or replace aging water mains, rehabilitate the city’s six water pumping stations, upgrade the Montebello water treatment plant and design a new treatment plant in Fullerton.

Chow said even though water rates are going to increase, your water bill might actually go down “because [we’re] charging them for actual consumption now.”

For example, under the quarterly billing structure, a typical home might pay $116.24, according to public works.  Under the new monthly billing structure which includes the rate increase, that same home might pay $95.92 in a three month period; a $20 savings.

The board also approved wholesale water rate increases for Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties; they receive water from the city.  The increased cost of water and sewer service will be passed on to Baltimore County.