Bel Air balks at proposed rate hike for water bill

Average bill could climb $15 per month
Posted at 6:36 PM, Oct 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-23 18:36:22-04

Mother Nature will provide the water for free, but when it's completed, the huge, 12-acre reservoir to hold it in Bel Air will cost over $15 million, and Maryland American Water says it had little choice, but to build it.
“We wouldn't be able to provide water to our customers if we didn't do this,” said Project Manager Tony Nokovich, “In the past, Harford County has been able to provide for our water needs in times of drought, but they've told us in the future, they're not going to be able to do that.”
Now, the company needs to ensure it can pay for it and that means passing the cost along to its 4,900 customers.
The bigger the user, the bigger the cost of a proposed 35-percent rate increase currently awaiting approval from the Maryland Public Service Commission.
The Main Street Tower restaurant uses a lot of water, but General Manager Mario Buontempo says as wages, food, gas, and electric costs continue to climb, it can ill afford the water bill skyrocketing as well.
“Especially in the small restaurant business, it would be a disaster,” said Buontempo, “35 percent.  It's way too much.”
It is a complaint shared by customers on fixed incomes.
Jesse Bane is the town administrator.
“When you're dealing with a town with a population where almost one out of three citizens are senior citizens, that's the 55-plus age group living on a fixed income, this could be a real problem for them in trying to pay their water bill,” said Bane.
During the drought of 1999, Bel Air learned the hard way that its primary source of water, Winter Runs, could not provide enough water to meet the needs of the town, and the state mandated it come up with another option.
The new reservoir will be able to hold 90 million gallons or enough to keep the water flowing for months, but critics of the rate increase prefer seeing it phased in over a period of time that would not punish those who can least afford it.
“When I say a period of time, we're talking about several years... maybe more,” added Bane.
Although the public hearings are now finished, the Public Service Commission will take written comment on the proposed hikes through Thursday, November 1st.