BALTIMORE — It's the number one complaint that comes into Baltimore City Hall. My water bill is too high, and I don't think it's right.
The Water Accountability and Equity Act won't fix all of the previous mistakes that the city has made. These enormous and incorrect bills are causing some people to lose their homes. The city has been billing Friendship Baptist church for around 700 gallons of water a day for years.
Problem is Pastor Alvin Gwynn Sr. said there's usually only one person in the church during the week.
“I was forced to install my own water meter here lately,” Gwynn Sr. said. “Now I’m looking at my water meter. I’m averaging 200 gallons a day is what I’m actually using, which means they’ve been over billing me 2/3 of the usage for the last four years.”
$18,000 down the drain in four years.
“They put my water bill on a tax lien sale in May. We went down there to check on it. It was obviously purchased by some company.”
$3,000 to pay a lien to keep his church.
Then there's Kimberly Armstrong who was the only one living at her home. A single person’s daily water use--$1,400 a month.
“I have a $5,000 water bill right now,” Armstrong said. “I’m going to tell you what, I refuse to give DPW any of my money because it’s like I’m paying somebody to rob me. I might as well go outside and hold my pocket book up and say here take it.”
The trickledown effect is making people lose homes and faith in the city. Pastor Gwynn Sr. and Armstrong were in the City Council Chamber to support the Water Accountability and Equity act for themselves and others who don’t have as loud of a voice.
“What about elder people who may not be computer savvy?” Armstrong asked the council. “What about people who lived on a fixed income? You cannot be a city whose saying you are trying to decrease homelessness when you are increasing homelessness.”
Rianna Eckel is the Maryland Organizer for Food and Water Watch, a group fighting to pass the bill. Broken down into two parts-- it would provide credits to cap water bills of low-income households at a level they can afford to pay based on their income.
“For folks who are under 200-percent of the federal poverty line their bills would be capped at a maximum of 3% of their household income so they can afford their water bills and ultimately pay them and stay up to date” Eckel said.
For the people who are staring down thousands of dollars in backed up bills, a team of about 20 people separate from the DPW whose only job from 9 to 5 is to help people with water bill related problems.
The bill has passed first reading, and that means it will soon be assigned to the full council and would become law after a third reading.