Wa­ter, sewer rates to rise again

Money needed to fix ag­ing wa­ter pipes, pre­vent sewage over­flows

The Avenue News - - Front Page - By VIRGINIA TER­HUNE vter­hune@ches­pub.com

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.”

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