Event Pick: A Discussion on the ‘Downward Spiral’ of Baltimore’s Water Billing System

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What happens when water and sewer rates are too high for at least a third of households to afford their monthly bills? Presently, Baltimore’s solution is to keep hiking the rates. This isn’t going to work out, says one economist.

Roger Colton, author of a recent report that says Baltimore is in a “downward spiral” with water and sewer billing, will be on hand tonight at Studio 4 downtown to discuss solutions for the utility situation that he and others argue is getting out of control.

By Colton’s calculations, the city’s three-year, roughly 30 percent hike on water rates will leave more than half of Baltimore households earning median income (relative to their neighbors) with unaffordable monthly bills by 2019. For the one-in-four city households living at or below the poverty line, Colton argues unpaid bills will only pile up as rates increase, leaving the city with even more missing utility revenue and an incentive to again hike water and sewer rates in order to compensate.

The Department of Public Works says the steep rate increases are needed to pay for federal court-ordered infrastructure repairs. More preferable, Colton and water-affordability advocates say, would be an income-based billing system that collects at least some revenue from city dwellers, based on how much income they’re bringing in. Philadelphia is currently piloting such a program.

Local nonprofit Jews United for Justice has organized a panel discussion tonight about the situation. Baltimore City Del. Mary Washington, who’s championed water affordability as an issue in recent years, will join Colton and the Rev. Dr. Alvin J. Gwynn Sr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore, on a panel.

“Baltimore’s Water Crisis – A Lose-Lose,” starts at 6:30 p.m. at Studio 4, located at 235 Holliday Street. Admission is free. Click here for more info or to RSVP.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Associate Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan is Baltimore Fishbowl's associate editor. He previously covered Baltimore-area news as a web producer for Fox45/WBFF-TV. Before arriving in Baltimore, he worked as an assistant editor for CQ Researcher in Washington D.C., and a reporter for Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. Look for his freelance bylines in Baltimore City Paper and DCist.
Ethan McLeod
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3 COMMENTS

  1. Ethan,
    Have you looked into the rates that the city charges to the county for water supply? I have a friend that lived on Lake Ave. at Falls and she told me their rates were very low despite being supplied by the city reservoirs. I have lived in Baltimore more city for 25+ years and the water billing situation is truly ridiculous. All of my neighbors in both Dickeyville and Hampden have had the dispute incredibly crazy bills, one was 5,000.00 for a single man who traveled during the week for work.
    Do you or anyone else have any idea why the city cannot seem to get a handle on the billing and metering issues?

    • Hi Stephanie,

      I think the best way to answer this is to refer you to the ongoing hikes in the city’s water and sewer rate schedules and economist Roger Colton’s assessment on the intersection of climbing utility rates and amassing customer debt. As for the individual household metering errors, I have few immediate answers, unfortunately, though the city does have a history with billing errors.

      Thanks for reaching out.

      Ethan

  2. I received a water bill for more than SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS from the city of Baltimore. I recently sold my home and am still fussing with the city over the bill. BGE had work done over the summer on Mallow Hill Road and several residents in that area caught the sub-contractors hooking to private outside water. The city claims all the water went through my meter but cannot explain HOW a 72 year old woman living alone could possibly have used that amount of water! Throughout the summer, and fall, I was traveling between St Louis MO and Baltimore frequently, which only adds to the improbability of me using that amount of water!

    Congressman Cummings’ office has contacted the Baltimore City Water Department asking for a review and for their assistance in solving this ridiculous bill. (Thankfully, the customer service representative assigned to assist me has been truly concerned and is trying her best to solve the problem.)

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