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Legislation aims to bar overdue water bills from sending homes to tax sale

Posted: 12:16 PM, Jan 07, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-08 13:45:09Z
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BALTIMORE — A bill that was introduced on Monday could be the next step in making Baltimore a water justice leader.

The Water Taxpayer Protection Act would save homes, churches, or other properties who have overdue water bills from a tax sale. Currently, if a home has up to $750 in outstanding water bills, in addition with another outstanding lien, that home is then forced to be sold by a government entity.

Places of worship have it even harder. If a place of worship has as little as $350 in outstanding water bills they will be sent to tax sale.

In 2017 there were a total of 10,893 homes sent to tax sale, and experts estimate that between 70 to 80 percent of those sales stemmed from overdue water bills. Also, from 2015 to 2017, at least 26 predominantly African American churches in Baltimore were sold at tax sale, many at least in part because of unpaid water bills.

A similar legislation was introduced in 2017 which sailed through the House of delegates with unanimous support, but it died in the Senate. This year, things are looking up for bill supporters as officials say there is unwavering support from both the House and the Senate.

Councilwoman Shannon Sneed also announced a resolution that would call on the General Assembly to pass the Water Taxpayer Protection Act.

Many also gathered on Monday at St John Alpha Omega Pentecostal Church to announce their support for the bill.

“Not all city or county water systems sell unpaid debts to private companies, said Senator Mary Washington, District 43. “The officials managing the WSSC, Maryland largest public system, have repeatedly rejected attempts by special interests to use tax sale foreclosures to collect unpaid water bills. If selling homes for water bills doesn’t make sense in Prince George’s or Montgomery Counties to punish vulnerable residents already struggling to cover the cost of the element most basic to our lives, then it certainly doesn’t make sense in Baltimore City.”

“My house has been added to the tax sale list twice over incorrect water bills, first in 2014 over a $1,400 bill, and again in 2017 for a $2,500 water bill,” said Kimberly Armstrong, Baltimore City resident. “Both times, my mortgage company has paid off the bills to ensure I don’t lose my house, but this has more than doubled my mortgage. All for incorrect bills that the city refused to address. Going up for tax sale has been emotionally and financially exhausting, this practice must be put to an end.”

High water rates are already on the docket to be increased as the Baltimore Board of Estimates will be voting on Wednesday to increase water bill prices 30% in the next three years.

RELATED: Water rates could rise in Baltimore if proposal passes

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.