Water, sewer rates to rise again
Money needed to fix aging water pipes, prevent sewage overflows
Baltimore County water and sewer rates increased for users this fiscal year by 15 percent, and they will go up again in each of the next two years, as the county deals with aging pipes and federal mandates.
The county is phasing in rate hikes over three years to invest millions of dollars to fix water main breaks, prevent sewage overflows and meet stricter federal limits on the amount of nutrients draining into the Chesapeake Bay.
Effective July 1, the metered water usage charge for the coming fiscal year is expected to increase, on average, by $130.20 for a family of four, followed by an increase of $97.23 the following year, according to a county press release.
The increases affect all Baltimore County users, including residences, apartment complexes, retail centers, office buildings and industrial plants.
“Because of the vast differences in building size and water usage by
non-residential users, it is difficult to draw a single profile of what it will mean for them,” wrote county spokeswoman Fronda Cohen in an email.
The purpose of the increases over the next two years is to generate $54 million in additional revenue, which will be used to replace water pipes, reline sewer pipes and upgrade treatment plants, according to a county press release.
Baltimore County maintains more than 2,100 miles of water lines and 3,100 miles of sewer lines in the county as part of its responsibilities to the regional Metropolitan District, which was established in 1924 to provide water and sewer service to the county and Baltimore City.
The District was set up to be financially self-supporting, which means that it is funded by user fees.
In recent years Baltimore County has dipped into “growing reserve to aid in debt service payments,” according to a Feb. 18 credit analysis by Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services.
“The county’s debt and liability factor score changed from strong to weak and reflects the now only partial self-support provided to the county’s Metropolitan Dis-
trict bonds,” according to the report.
To restore the balance, the county raised fees by 15 percent for the current fiscal year ending June 30, and announced recently that it will raise rates over the next two fiscal years in amounts equivalent to 12 percent and 8 percent increases respectively.
“We understand, with rate increases implemented for fiscal 2016, the Metropolitan District bonds will again receive full self-support status in the near term,” according to the Standard & Poor’s report.
Baltimore County is also dealing with a 2005 federal consent decree that requires tjurisdictions around the Chesapeake Bay to spend millions of dollars to expand or upgrade sewage treatment plants to increase filtering capacity and lower the level of nutrients running into the bay.
Air pollution from cars, fertilized fields and sewage treatment plants contain nitrogen and phosphorous, which in excess amounts can spark algae blooms that block sunlight and deplete oxygen levels in the water, killing fish, shellfish and other aquatic life.
As part of the consent decree, Baltimore City is currently expanding its Back River sewage treatment plant located off Eastern Boulevard, which is run by the city and located in the county.
The plant serves residents and also industrial users such as American Yeast off North Point Boulevard and Middle River Aircraft off Eastern Avenue.
The Maryland Department of the Environment is currently reviewing the plant’s renewal application for its discharge permit. The department is hosting an informational meeting for the public about the permit at 6 p.m. on Monday, April 4, at the North Point library.
For more information about water and sewer charges, visit www.baltimorecountymd.gov and search for “Metro charges.”