Baltimore City and County to review decades-old water billing arrangement

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Photo by Ángelo González

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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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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2 COMMENTS

  1. Too bad the article does not mention the actual specific agreements made in the 1970s that affect the County water bills. My own water bill that the City sends has sometimes been way higher than actual usage. Calls to the Department have been useless.

    On another note, some City water is carried through wooden pipelines built in the 1880s. More recently the City has been trying to map them. The problem as with most projects government at all levels is supposed to improve as conditions require has been that money allocated to repairs and upkeep have too often been spent on expanding government. This is not just the fault of present day officials, but of their predecessors over at least the last century. Perhaps water service should be sold or leased to private business as any other utility. Many other areas of the country can be examined for the many successes with private sources of water.

    • Thanks for reading, Dee. Unfortunately I couldn’t locate the agreements anywhere online Monday, though it wasn’t for a lack of trying. I can direct you to p. 17 of the city’s annual bond disclosure report from 2018, which includes details on how the county’s share of water utility costs is calculated annually.

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