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Water becomes a question of affordability in Baltimore

Board of Estimates approves 30% rate hike over 3 years
Posted at 11:49 PM, Jan 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-10 15:35:33-05

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Higher water bills will be in the mail this summer for people who live in Baltimore. Today the Board of Estimates approved a 30% rate hike over three years, but many have questions about the rising costs.

"It's making living in Baltimore City unaffordable," resident Janet Allen said.

She has lived in Baltimore her whole life and never thought water would be the cause of financial stress.

"My average water bill is about $80 a month and that's just for one person," Allen said.

Her bill, along with all other Baltimore residents, will increase by 30% over the next three years, after the Board of Estimates voted 3-2 to approve the Department of Public Works rate hike. It will add around $8 to Allen's monthly bills, totaling almost $300 more dollars in 2022.

MORE: Baltimore water rate hike approved by board

Officials with DPW say the money is for necessary infrastructure repairs to keep water drinkable and available to everyone.

Rianna Eckel, the Maryland organizer for Food and Water Watch, says they fought the rate increase, not because of where the money may go but because she and several city leaders say DPW didn't provide enough information to justify it.

"We believe that the water has to be not just affordable but it has to be safe and we need it to be safe by replacing the water and sewer lines and so we are in full support or doing all the infrastructure upgrades that DPW wants to do but we need to see the numbers," Eckel said. "If you're going to price people out of water service, there needs to be some sort of serious justification for why you are planning to do that and what you're spending that money on."

Eckel says they've heard from lots of concerned people who already have trouble affording water.

"We've heard stories from families who have actually joined gyms and gone to the gym to shower and fill up water bottles because joining that gym and paying the gym membership is cheaper than their water bill," Eckel said.

To help with affordability, the board also passed a program to reduce rates for low income residents by nearly half, though it doesn't help working people like Allen.

"Those of that are caught in the middle have no reprieve and we need to have some type of reprieve. Water has to be affordable. We should not have to take out a loan to drink and use a natural resource," Allen said.

DPW says they provided plenty of opportunities for people to voice their concerns and ask questions. They instituted a very similar rate hike scheduled from 2016 to 2018.

July is the first time residents will see the nearly 10% increase on their water bill, and it will increase by roughly 10% in 2020 and 2021.