Baltimore wa­ter, sewer rates to grow by 33%

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Colin Camp­bell cm­camp­bell@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/cm­camp­bell6

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.

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