DPW Requests Hearing to Review Water/Sewer Rate Adjustments, New Rate Structure
Tuesday Jul 26th, 2016
The Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) is proposing a three-year package of single-digit water and sewer rate adjustments, as well as a new rate structure that would eliminate the minimum billing for water usage. The rate increases are needed to ensure that the utilities remain self-sustaining, to support stepped up replacement of aging infrastructure, and to meet federal and state mandates.
DPW is requesting the Baltimore City Board of Estimates to hold a public hearing at 9 a.m. on August 31, 2016, to consider these changes. Earlier DPW asked the City Council to approve its long-sought move to monthly billing.
New Rates and Effective Dates:
- If approved, water rates would increase 9.9 percent on October 11, 2016; 9.9 percent on July 1, 2017; and 9.9 percent on July 1, 2018. Sewer rates would increase 9 percent on October 11, 2016; 9 percent on July 1, 2017; and 9 percent on July 1, 2018. That would mean an overall adjustment of 9.4 percent each year.
- But the new rate structure would greatly reduce this impact for Baltimore’s more modest water consumers. For example, with the new billing model, total annual charges in fiscal year 2017 for a typical account with a 5/8-inch meter using 21 ccf of water per quarter would go from $892.48 to $922.56. (A ccf is 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons.) That’s an increase of about 3.4 percent.
- DPW is recommending that City customers age 65 and older, whose annual household income does not exceed $30,000, be eligible for a 43 percent discount on water and sewer consumption charges. The household income threshold would be adjusted annually for inflation.
- DPW is also recommending that the credit for low-income assistance be increased to $197, from $179, for eligible City customers. This credit has been adjusted annually in step with water/sewer rates.
- DPW is also proposing that wholesale water charges to Howard and Anne Arundel Counties be increased, as well as raw water charges to Carroll County. Baltimore County sets its own water rates with City concurrence.
Changes to the Rate Structure and Billing:
- As noted, DPW plans to eliminate minimum billing. This would encourage conservation of water and ensure that a customer’s bill more accurately reflects how much water they use.
- Monthly billing, which is more in line with household budgets, will replace quarterly billing. Customers will find it easier to monitor and adjust their water usage, and even find leaks or unexpected consumption more quickly.
- If approved, the new rate structure will apply the same per-unit rates to all users, replacing the declining block rate which gives a lower rate per unit of water for using very large volumes of water.
- Every customer would be charged an Account Management fee to cover the costs of billing and Customer Support.
- Every customer would be charged an Infrastructure Fee to cover a portion of the capital costs for providing water and sewer services. This fee would be based upon meter size.
- Customers would be able to update their account and view their bill and water consumption online via computer, phone, or other portable device.
- The new bill would be easier to read and provide our customers more and better information.
Reasons for Rate Increases:
- The water capital improvement plan is estimated at $1.3 billion over the next six years.
- The average age of the City's large water mains in 75 years; many have been in use for well over 100 years.
- Baltimore has moved to a 15 mile per year schedule of replacing or rehabilitating our water mains. In the just completed fiscal year DPW completed 19 miles of water main replacement and rehab.
- Over the last decade significant water main failures have occurred on Light Street, Madison Street, Charles Street, Argonne Drive, Dundalk Avenue, Belair Road, Millington Avenue, and even under the Harbor. These have damaged property and roadways, and such breaks pose a threat to public safety, especially when they impact fire-fighting capabilities and medical facilities.
- Preventive inspections and replacement of failing sections of large water mains is ongoing. This work enabled us to prevent a catastrophic failure of the large Southwest Transmission Main.
- In addition to water line renewal, Baltimore will be rehabilitating the Vernon, Cromwell, Pikesville, Towson, Ashburton, and Guilford Pumping Stations. Needed improvements will be made to the Montebello Water Filtration Plants, and a new water treatment plant is being designed for Fullerton.
- Plans to cover the drinking water reservoirs at Lake Ashburton, Druid Lake are ongoing; work is now underway at Guilford.
- DPW is nearing completion of the BaltiMeter installations to ensure accurate and timely water meter reading. This is coupled with the new BaltiMeter Billing system which would go into effect in October and introduce monthly billing. Customers would be able to track their water usage on their tablets, PCs, and smart phones. This would enable them to adjust their water usage and to quickly discover potential costly leaks.
- The wastewater capital improvement plan is $701.1 million over the next six years.
- Collapses and blockages in sewer lines lead to overflows into nearby streams and basement backups. Baltimore continues its work in rehabilitating our underground sewer infrastructure as required by a federal/state Consent Decree.
- Wastewater projects include regulatory driven Enhanced Nutrient Removal at the Back River and Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plants, numerous upgrades at Back River, and the Back River Headworks project that will allow us to eliminate more than 80 percent of the sewage overflow volume.
Adoption of the new rates and rate structure would enable the Baltimore City Department of Public Works to continue moving forward on these many vital projects. It would also provide a more equitable billing structure for our customers.