Baltimore water, sewer rates to grow by 33%
Baltimore residents will pay about 33 percent more for water and be charged two new fees under a three-year plan to help pay for repairs to the city’s crumbling infrastructure and fix an error-prone water billing system.
Baltimore’s spending panel approved the city water rate increase Wednesday during a nearly three-hour public hearing at City Hall. More than a dozen people testified against the plan at the hearing.
The yearly water bill for a typical family will increase about $170 by the third year of the plan, the Department of Public Works said.
The Board of Estimates voted to increase the water rate an average of 9.9 percent annually and sewer rates 9 percent a year through fiscal year 2019. The plan also calls for new “infrastructure” and “account management” charges.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt voted against the increases. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake controls the other three votes on the five-member board.
“This is a problem none of us created,” the mayor said. “The infrastructure’s been languishing for decades.”
City auditors have called the increase “reasonable.”
The residents who testified against the rate hike said they understood the city’s water and sewer systems need to be fixed, but they urged the board to find another way to pay for it.
Several said they were particularly concerned about the effects of the higher bills on elderly, low-income and disabled residents.
Alexis Schofield, 63, told the board she lives on a fixed income in her childhood home in Ednor Gardens.
“I cannot afford any of this,” she said. “I can barely afford to pay the bills that I have.”
Officials say they will switch from a quarterly billing cycle to monthly bills starting Oct. 11.
Increased rates could make it more difficult not only for people to live in the city but for developers to build affordable housing, said Patrick Stewart, a development and planning professional at Pennrose Management.
Pennrose owns and manages the properties it builds, and it pays for residents’ water and sewer bills, he said.
Pratt said she voted against the rate increase “due to the uncertainties that can affect the estimates of revenues and expenses that are projected for the next three years.”
Young said he wants the city to examine unfinished, contracted jobs that have slowed efforts to comply with a federal consent decree requiring a $1.2 billion sewer overhaul.