County balks at rise in Baltimore water rate

Contingent to attend hearing to protest proposed increase

March 15, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County commissioners objected yesterday to a planned 16 percent increase in Baltimore water rates because most of the extra money would go to fix parts of the city's decaying infrastructure that have little direct impact on Carroll.

The county draws much of its water from the city-owned Liberty Reservoir but maintains treatment plants and networks of pipes. Commissioners say Carroll would be paying 16 percent more for untreated water while deriving little benefit from planned upgrades to the city's water and sewer systems.

The commissioners voted unanimously yesterday to have county staffers attend a public hearing April 10 in Baltimore on the rates and petition the city for a lower rate.

"We don't use any of their pipes, we just skim water right off the surface at Liberty," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge in arguing that the county shouldn't have to pay the full increase, which the city announced last week.

The city has imposed rate increases five of the past seven years, but Carroll paid previous increases without objection, said Doug Myers, county director of public works.

But the size of this year's increase - and the purpose behind it - caused Myers to take the issue before the commissioners. He said he had expressed his concerns to George Winfield, his counterpart in the city, and that Winfield told him he would look into the issue.

Winfield said yesterday that the city has always imposed its rate increases on all customers. Though Carroll might not benefit directly from upgrades covered by this increase, Winfield said, the commissioners' logic breaks down because the city pays to maintain Liberty, which benefits Carroll more than it benefits many city residents.

"We've always shared costs," Winfield said. "We don't isolate the cost of projects based on whom they benefit."

The city plans several costly water projects, including improvements at its treatment plants to meet federal drinking water mandates and rehabilitation of the Loch Raven Dam. The city has added projects since Sept. 11, including safety improvements to the city's water filtration plants, city officials said after the rate increase was announced.

City officials said that with more water improvement projects planned in coming years, residents can expect annual increases in water rates. This year's increase would go into effect April 11 if approved by Baltimore's Board of Estimates.

Myers said that even if the county ends up paying the full 16 percent increase this year, residents might not see changes on their water bills. The county's water billing structure probably contains enough room to absorb the increase, Myers said.

In other business, the commissioners approved part of a $383,000 transfer of funds that would allow the county school board to move forward with construction of the Gateway School outside Westminster. The commissioners approved a $207,000 transfer, saying they would transfer the balance if the school board needs the extra money during construction.

The decision was no surprise because the commissioners scolded the board last month for what they called insufficiently documented spending on previous projects. The decision will reduce the amount of contingency money for the Gateway project but will not halt construction of the school.

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