As city water bills remain frozen, rates will rise by 10 percent next week

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Water bills haven’t been going out recently, but that doesn’t mean you won’t eventually have to pay up for these late spring and summer months. Nor does it mean you’ll be able to avoid a planned water and sewer rate hike set to take effect starting next week.

The first of three straight annual 10 percent increases in water rates and 9 percent for sewer rates is still happening Monday, July 1.

While water bills haven’t gone out for two months due to an early May ransomware attack that left the city unable to invoice residents for usage—still being tracked by meters, but not yet billable—there’s been no talk among officials about delaying the rate increases, said Baltimore City Department of Public Works spokesman Jeffrey Raymond.

“There’s a lot of backroom stuff that goes into these changes, a lot of planning, a lot of testing,” he said, “and no one that I’m aware of has approached us and asked for that.”

DPW is simultaneously rolling out an application for ramped-up assistance for seniors and low-income households on Monday.

Despite protests, as well some council members pushing for a delay pending further study, the city’s Board of Estimates approved the water rate bump in its first meeting of the year this January. The vote was split 3-2, with then-Council President (now Mayor) Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt voting against, and Catherine Pugh, DPW Director Rudy Chow and Solicitor Andre Davis voting in favor.

The new wave of increases piggybacks off a three-year, 33 percent hike that started in 2016 during the Stephanie Rawlings-Blake administration. Chow argued in January that before these swells became the new normal, “the City neglected to raise its rates over time” at the expense of the aged sewer system, which is now undergoing billions of dollars worth of necessary upgrades.

“That resulted in deferring necessary maintenance, a long list of needed investments, and a federal wastewater consent decree that tells us how we must spend our money,” he said, referring to the court order mandating those repairs.

Rate increases are likely to continue well into the 2020s, with a study prepared for DPW forecasting annual 10 percent annual bumps for water through June of 2025. Sewer rate increases would be more modest by consultant Raftelis’ calculations, dropping to 6 percent in fiscal 2023 and 2024 and 5 percent in FY 2025.

Water-rights activists plan to rally Monday at 12:30 p.m. at the War Memorial in support of income-based water billing reform legislation that Young introduced in December. The legislation would scale water and sewer charges for low-income households—renters included—to their income, similarly to what Philadelphia is now doing.

Residents and advocates largely poured out in support of the bill at a public hearing last month, though DPW and the Department of Finance have opposed it, saying it would raise costs and make it too onerous for DPW to begin tracking bills for both renters and homeowners, among other issues. Young has backed off of publicly supporting the bill, instead touting DPW’s new H20 Assists program that debuts next week.

As for those water bills you’re not receiving, Young’s deputy chief of staff for operations, Sheryl Goldstein, has assured all late fees are being waived, and that the city will audit them for errors and offer to arrange for payment plans before mailing them out, whenever that may be.

In the meantime, she’s offered, feel free to pre-pay your bill based on what you’ve previously been charged by walking a check down to the Abel Wolman Building or sending it in the mail. If you do go that route, just remember to raise that number by 10 percent starting next month.

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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in CityLab, Slate, Baltimore City Paper, DCist and elsewhere.
Ethan McLeod
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1 COMMENT

  1. The problem with going in and paying or sending a check is that I don’t think they can even process it. Their system being down is not just the web portal for residents, but their entire internal billing aparatus. So why should i trust them to A) Not lose the payment B) Process it correctly when its back up ?

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