BALTIMORE — Wednesday morning, the Baltimore City Board of Estimates approved a 30 percent rate hike for the city's water.
The increase will be phased in over three years, raising around nine percent each year starting on July 1. This would add $8 a month to a bill for a family of three, so that would mean by the year 2022, that family of three would be paying roughly $300 more a year.
While the raise in the water rate will add up for some families, the funds go into guaranteeing clean and safe water for residents.
According to the Department of Public Works, "We take it for granted when we turn on the faucet that clean, safe water will flow. But there are very real costs to providing drinking water, treating wastewater, and safely mitigating polluted storm water runoff. These essential systems do not receive any financial support from City tax dollars, so all funding comes from customers’ monthly water bills."
They continued to say the money will go into monitoring dams that hold back water, filtration plants that make the water drinkable, and pumps that ensure everyone is able to get water.
“For years, the City neglected to raise its water rates over time. 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,” said Baltimore City Department of Public Works Director Rudolph S. Chow. P.E. “We have begun to take on these expensive investments in the last few years and are nearing the point when we will see the magnitude of requested rate increases start to decline, and reach a steady state of modest, inflationary adjustments.”
In addition to rate hikes, the city also approved the enhanced customer assistance program, Baltimore H2O Assists, which will help reduce water and sewage use by 43 percent. The program will also remove Stormwater Remediation and Bay Restoration fees from some resident's monthly bills. Customers who are currently enrolled in the City’s Senior Citizen Water Bill Assistance and Hardship Exemption programs will be eligible, as will all customers whose household income meets 175 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
Even though the rate hikes did end up passing, not all on the city council are thrilled about the decision. Councilman Zeke Cohen says he asked the head of the city's Department of Public Works about doing a study on water rates before approving the rate hike several months ago, but has not gotten a response.
"If I'm not able to get that type of information how is a regular citizen to get the information that we need. It shouldn't take letters, formal requests, anybody should be able to find out where our tax dollars are going and right we now we have not been able to get that information," Cohen said.
Councilman Cohen says in his office alone, he's handled nearly 270 calls for high, erroneous or missing water bills.
Councilman Jack Young also issued the following statement regarding the hikes,
“I voted ‘no’ on today's water rate increase because I am concerned about the way it will impact those least able to pay. I appreciate DPW’s efforts to find solutions, but we are still not there. Water rates have risen through the roof over the last decade and I have voted no on every increase. I recognize the City's infrastructure needs are severe but our citizens cannot continue to be asked to foot the bill for all of the work. We have all worked tirelessly to come up with solutions. I’ve worked with the Department to increase the Senior Citizen Discount Program and the Low Income Water Assistance Program. I’ve consistently reached out to our federal government for federal assistance with our water infrastructure needs. And most recently, I’ve introduced the Water Accountability and Equity Act to provide a consistent, fair and neutral process to resolve water billing problems for everyone, especially those who are least able to pay. The legislation offers a real affordability program, provides a path out of water debt, and offers forward-thinking protections. I believe we can work together at all levels of government to come up with solutions. As an elected official, it is my job to make sure every single Baltimorean has access to safe and affordable water.”