The Molicks received a credit for nearly $500 in March 2011 and thought their problems had been solved. But a few months later, they noticed that their monthly mortgage payment had jumped by $300.
Cindy Molick called the lender, Bank of America, where a representative explained that a high sewer bill was to blame. While the couple's previous annual sewer bills had hovered between $400 and $500, their July 2011 bill was for $1,440.
The high bill wiped out the couple's escrow account, which helped trigger the higher monthly payments.
"I wasn't late. I didn't default. It's all because they estimated my bills," Cindy Molick complained.
Mohler, the county executive's chief of staff, said customers whose city water bills are inaccurate should inform the county so their sewer bills can be adjusted.
"If they rectify the bill with the city, they need to contact the customer service officer in budget and finance," he said. "Then we would analyze it and should be able to adjust it."
County employees are meeting with their city counterparts to determine a more efficient way to detect errors before they become magnified in sewer bills, he said.
But some County Council members say that the county should take a more aggressive approach.
"It's a mess," said Councilman Todd Huff, a Republican who represents northern Baltimore County. He recently helped the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium fight an overly high city water bill and receive a $6,000 credit, he said.
"It's going to wind up being a massive issue," said Huff. "The problem is you're either paying the property tax once a year or twice a year. Do you have to wait a year for a [credit]?"
Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond says she has urged budget officials to cease calculating sewer bills based on unusually high water bills. If a customer receives an unusually high water bill from the city, county officials should bill the household at its usual sewer rate until the issue can be resolved, she said.
"To me, the answer would be to freeze everything where it is," said Almond, a Democrat who represents northwestern Baltimore County. "We can't keep putting this burden on the taxpayers who have no fault in this."
Almond said an alert should be triggered when a county resident gets a high water bill, or when the city reduces a water bill after a customer complains.
"I think there's a total lack of communication between the two jurisdictions, and that's something we'd like to address," said Almond. She said the council met recently with budget and finance officials to discuss the issue.
Several county residents who contacted The Baltimore Sun said that they were not aware of the high sewage bills until their mortgage company informed them that the charges had cleaned out their escrow accounts.
George Mills of Woodstock said he first learned of billing issues at his Reisterstown rental property when he received a call from his mortgage company. Although the company that managed the rental home had successfully fought an inflated water bill, the county used the original water bill to calculate sewage costs.
"It doesn't seem fair that there was a problem with the water bill and I have to pay this huge sewer bill,," said Mills, 50-year-old federal employee, who saw his sewer charges jump by $1,000 in July 2010.
The bill raised his monthly mortgage and county fee payments from $920 to $1,020. The new total exceeds the rent he receives from his tenants.
Although Mills received a credit on his July 2011 sewage bill, his mortgage company continues to charge him at the higher rate.
"I just basically gave up after a while," said Mills.
The city and county have shared a water system for more than 150 years, according to Mohler.
The city gained possession of what are now called Loch Raven and Prettyboy reservoirs in 1853. State legislators granted the county the right to use the city's water mains in 1922, and the Metropolitan District Act, which set up the system still used today, was approved two years later.
Some county leaders say the city's water billing problems are prompting new interest in the creation of an independent water authority.
"I certainly think it might be something that might be considered a little more readily now," said Almond.
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.
What to do
Baltimore County residents with questions about their water bills should contact the Baltimore public works department at 410-396-5398.
If a county resident's water bill is incorrect, the sewer bill likely is wrong, too. Call Baltimore County's public works department at 410-887-2423. Ask for a member of the metro staff.
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