The time has come for a review of Baltimore City and Baltimore County’s aging framework for water billing, officials say.
Under agreements signed in 1972 for water service and 1974 for sewer service, the city administers water bills for households and businesses on both sides of the city-county line, while the county bills its own residents and businesses for sewer service.
But in a joint release put out by Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s and Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski’s offices today, the leaders said their administrations will conduct a “comprehensive review” of that system.
“Given the age of the agreements, officials in both jurisdictions agree there is a need to evaluate their efficacy and determine whether changes are needed to modernize system management in order to improve customer service,” the announcement said.
Spokespeople for both elected leaders offered few details about what types of changes that could prompt.
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said simply that the arrangement is dated, “so this presents an opportunity to look at it.” The end goal is to ensure that the arrangements for water and sewer billing are “working for all our constituents.”
Asked whether it could mean the county would start administering its own water charges, Olszewski’s spokesman T.J. Smith said, “We will allow the review to take place and then determine the necessary next steps. We are working together to find solutions that best serve the customers and long-term strength of the water system.”
City residents, particularly black households, have been struggling to keep pace with annual increases to water and sewer rates, and are staring at 10 percent hikes for water and 9 percent increases for sewer service through June of 2022. But county residents haven’t been spared, with officials announcing water and sewer rates would jump nearly 14 percent combined one year ago.
Also mentioned in today’s announcement: Baltimore’s ransomware attack, now in its sixth week, is affecting some county residents’ tax bills. That’s because Baltimore County folds sewer charges into households’ annual property taxes, using last year’s water consumption, logged by the city, as a benchmark to calculate their sewer bill.
The attack, which struck Baltimore’s municipal computer networks on May 7 and remains unresolved, has shut off access to various data on city servers. This month, it’s preventing the city from being able to send out water bills to residents.
County officials said they’ll be mailing letters to some 14,000 households—a small fraction of the roughly 200,000 residents and businesses relying on city water—notifying them of the issue.
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