Au­di­tor calls city’s 33% wa­ter rate in­crease rea­son­able; hear­ing to­day

Baltimore Sun - - AROUND THE REGION - By Luke Broad­wa­ter lbroad­wa­ter@balt­

Bal­ti­more’s Board of Es­ti­mates will hear pub­lic tes­ti­mony to­day about a pro­posed dou­ble-digit, mul­ti­year wa­ter rate in­crease. The hear­ing will take place at 9 a.m. at City Hall.

Un­der the pro­posal, Bal­ti­more res­i­dents would pay about 33 per­cent more for wa­ter and be charged two new fees un­der a three-year plan to help fix the city’s crum­bling in­fras­truc­ture and er­ror-plagued billing sys­tem.

Wa­ter rates would in­crease an av­er­age of 9.9 per­cent an­nu­ally and sewer rates would in­crease 9 per­cent a year through fis­cal year 2019. The plan also calls for new in­fras­truc­ture and ac­count man­age­ment charges.

The De­part­ment of Pub­lic Works said the yearly wa­ter bill for a typ­i­cal fam­ily would likely in­crease about $170 by the third year of the plan.

City au­di­tors, who re­port to Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, con­cluded that the pro­posed rate in­creases are rea­son­able to meet the wa­ter de­part­ment’s debt ser­vice pay­ments, ac­cord­ing to the agenda of the Board of Es­ti­mates, which is con­trolled by Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake. The city’s spend­ing panel must ap­prove any ex­pense greater than $25,000.

As part of the over­haul of the city’s wa­ter-billing sys­tem, of­fi­cials say they plan to switch from a quar­terly billing cy­cle to monthly bills start­ing Oct. 11.

City of­fi­cials say the rate in­creases are needed to fin­ish the “re­place­ment of all res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial wa­ter me­ters in both Bal­ti­more City and Bal­ti­more County.” The new me­ters are be­ing out­fit­ted with wire­less tech­nol­ogy that is sup­posed to make me­ter-read­ing more ac­cu­rate and im­prove the time­li­ness of billing.

The rate in­creases also would help the city com­ply with fed­eral and state man­dates “pro­tect­ing pub­lic health and en­vi­ron­ment, as well as in­vest­ing in our aging un­der­ground wa­ter and sewer sys­tems,” of­fi­cials said.

Bal­ti­more has em­barked on a six-year, $1.3 bil­lion cap­i­tal im­prove­ment plan for wa­ter projects that in­cludes re­plac­ing mains, cov­er­ing open reser­voirs and ren­o­vat­ing pump­ing sta­tions. The city is also in the midst of a six-year, $701 mil­lion im­prove­ment plan for waste­water projects that in­cludes ma­jor up­grades at the city-owned Back River Waste­water Treat­ment Plant in Bal­ti­more County.

Of­fi­cials plan to in­crease wa­ter rates for bulk pur­chases made by Anne Arun­del, Car­roll and Howard coun­ties by sim­i­lar amounts.

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