Water rates in Baltimore may increase City proposes 19 percent rise, first in four years

'It's pretty significant'

Charges also would go up to Balto. Co., Howard, Arundel

February 29, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Water and sewer fees for a Baltimore household would increase 19 percent -- or an average of about $60 a year -- under a rate increase proposed by the city.

The proposed increase, the first in four years, affects commercial and industrial as well as residential customers. If approved by the city's top elected and appointed officials, it would take effect April 1.

The cost of water the city sells to Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties also would rise. However, it's not known what effect this will have on rates paid by residents.

Department of Public Works officials say the increase is needed to cover increased operating costs and maintain reserves for the Water and Waste Water Utility Funds, self-sustaining enterprises that operate independently of the city budget.

Even with the increase, they say, Baltimore's water and sewer charges still will be below those of surrounding jurisdictions and of Philadelphia, Richmond and Washington.

"Nobody likes to have anything increased," said public works director George Balog. "But we are required to maintain a level of reserves under our bond covenants. In order to do that, we must increase the rates."

The department's Bureau of Water and Waste Water formally will unveil the proposed increase Wednesday at the weekly meeting of the Board of Estimates. The board, composed of the city's top elected and appointed officials, must approve any increase and will hold a public hearing in 30 days.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the city's largest commercial water customer characterized the proposed rate rise as "sizable" and said it would have to come out of his firm's profits.

SCM Chemicals plant at Hawkins Point in South Baltimore spent $1.2 million in the last year on water to manufacture titanium dioxide, a fine white powder used to make paints, plastic and paper, said plant manager Ronald B. Root. The proposed increase would add another $230,000 to those costs, he said.

"It's a pretty significant increase that we would have to take a look at and see what the justification is," he said.

Under the proposal, the cost of treated water the city sells to Anne Arundel and Howard counties also would rise by 19 percent -- to $5.2 million. Both jurisdictions also used other sources of water for their residents.

Baltimore County, which under state law gets water from the city system at cost, would pay an additional $3.1 million to the city under the proposal. That amounts to an increase of 12.5 percent.

The last time the city increased its water and waste water fees was in April 1992, when fees went up 14 percent. The previous increase, in 1989, was 18 percent.

Under the latest proposed increase, water and sewer charges for a typical family dwelling in the city with more than two occupants would rise from $76.79 per quarter, or $307.16 a year, to $91.38 per quarter, or $365.52 a year, officials said. The figures are based usage of 29,172 gallons of water per quarterly billing period, or 324 gallons a day.

Such dwellings account for half the city's water and sewer accounts.

The same dwelling in Howard County would pay $445 a year; in Washington, $447; and in Baltimore County, $597, officials said.

If the current increase is approved, officials said that they do not expect to ask for another increase for three or four years.

Water and Waste Water Utility Funds were set up in 1978 and issue bonds to finance capital improvements. The funds have combined annual budgets of $171 million.

Since the last rate increase, the annual cost of maintenance and treatment has increased about $18 million, or 17 percent.

"To maintain the system is costing us more because it is an older system," said Linda S. Davis, head of the Bureau of Water and Waste Water.

Among the facilities the bureau maintains are the Liberty, Loch Raven and Prettyboy dams and the Back River and Patapsco waste water treatment plants.

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