Baltimore panel weighs increase in water and sewer rates for area

March 12, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

The Baltimore Board of Estimates is considering a proposal to raise water and sewer rates by an average of 16.4 percent for residential customers and up to 40 percent for some large businesses.

The proposed increase would affect 1.5 million customers in Baltimore and in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard and Carroll counties -- all of whom share the city's water and waste water system.

In all, the increases would bring an additional $18 million a year to the water and sewer system, which is funded separately from other government operations and by law must be self-sustaining.

The proposal, which will have a public hearing before the board April 15, would increase the annual water bill for city residents from an average of $263.96 to $307.16 -- an increase of $43.20 per year. The new rates would take effect in July.

"This proposal bears very close scrutiny," Council President Mary Pat Clarke said.

Public Works Director George G. Balog, who oversees the city's water and sewage facilities, said the increase does not factor in $10.2 million that the city won from Baltimore County in a suit over the amount the county pays for city water.

A Circuit Court judge has upheld the city's award, but no written opinion has been issued in the case. Also, it is unclear whether the county will appeal the case.

"We're optimistic that we're going to get the money, but we're not sure," Mr. Balog said.

Mr. Balog added that all of that money would not offset a rate increase. Instead, he said, some would be invested to upgrade the water and sewer system.

City water rates last went up in 1989, when the Board of Estimates approved increases ranging from 7 percent to 40 percent for residences and businesses.

Even if the city were to approve the latest proposed increases, Mr. Balog said, Baltimore would continue to enjoy the lowest water rates among 10 major cities included in a survey conducted by his department.

In Washington, for instance, the average residential customer pays $447 a year for water and sewer service; in Philadelphia, the average annual water bill is $540; and in Austin, Texas, residents pay an average of $670 a year for water and sewer service.

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