(UPDATED 3:11 p.m.) — Like Johns Hopkins University's Spring Fair, the Roland Park Baseball League's season and increased garage burglaries, rising water rates are fast becoming a spring ritual in Baltimore.
If a proposed 9 percent hike in the city's water rate is approved, it would be the third year in a row there has been an increase of that much. In 2008, the water rate was raised by 4 percent.
At the Department of Public Work's (DPW) request, the Board of Estimates approved a request for a public hearing on increasing the rate on Wednesday. The board will hold the hearing at City Hall at 9 a.m. on May 18.
DPW is estimating the increase will raise a family of four's annual water bill $81.
If the rate hike is approved, the new rates would go into effect immediately.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, D-District 14, called the increase a real blow to residents that are dealing with various other expenses in a rough economy.
"We have to be sure the amount being requested is actually needed now, and not being put aside for future uses," Clarke said. "We have to get our house in order if we're going to ask for more money."
The announcement of a possible rate hike comes days after Clarke introduced legislation that would require water meters be read prior to billing residential customers.
The city officials said these are the reasons an increase is needed:
- More than 95 percent of the city’s water mains have been in service for 65 years without inspection; many are beyond 100 years of service.
- In fiscal year 2009 just .12 percent of the system’s water mains were replaced; none were replaced in all of fiscal year 2010.
- In the past five years, DPW has responded to 5,762 water main breaks.
- Because of the aging system, the city loses enough water daily to fill Baltimore’s World Trade Center; 20 percent of our finished water revenues.
- The continuing work is mandated by a federal consent decree requiring $1 billion in sewer system improvements.
- Homeland security improvements since Sept. 11, 2001 have increased costs for guard services, chemicals, water quality monitoring and facility security.
- Changes in Safe Drinking Water Act regulations requiring hundreds of millions of dollars in filtration and reservoir improvements.
- Improvements at waste water treatment plants must meet federal mandates to reduce nutrients entering the Chesapeake Bay.