Some Baltimore County residents will see a 4.9% hike in rates for their water consumption after a requested increase received approval Wednesday from the city’s spending board.
The increase, which the city Board of Estimates approved unanimously at the request of Baltimore County officials, will go into effect on July 1 and applies for the following 12 months.
The increase is part of an annual process by the county to recalibrate its water billing rates, and county officials estimated that this year’s hike amounts to about $16.91 more per year for an average household of four. Tom Flagg, Baltimore County acting chief of public works and transportation, said after the meeting that the county has raised water usage rates every year since 2015. A year ago, the county requested a 4.7% rate increase, while county residents saw their water bills bumped by 4% the year before that.
Water rate increases have prompted blowback from some in the county in the past, as in 2015, when officials oversaw a 15% increase on drinking water and sewer rates — a larger jump officials at the time attributed to needed investment in the region’s aging utility system.
The county is seeing yet another increase this year to help pay for maintenance and operating needs to account for higher inflationary costs and to accommodate the area’s growing population, Flagg said.
Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works oversees a sprawling drinking water system that serves around 1.8 million people across the region, including in Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford, Carroll and Baltimore counties, in addition to the city.
As of 2019, about 235,000 county households and businesses received city water from the system.
Each jurisdiction in the distribution area sets its own water rates and fees, and officials noted in their request for a rate change that increased revenues will be used for funding the county’s share of operating costs.
Baltimore City a year ago approved a 3% rate hike for drinking water for each of the next three years, a significantly smaller increase than city residents had seen in previous years.
City Department of Public Works Deputy Director Richard Luna noted that there are differences in the expenses that factor into the county’s water bills, which are issued quarterly, and the city’s water bills, which are issued monthly. For example, infrastructure and sewer consumption charges appear on city bills but not county bills, and other costs factor into county rates that aren’t assessed in the city.
The city’s public works department has struggled over the years with issuing accurate water meter bills. A joint report from the city and county inspectors general in 2020 found thousands of dysfunctional water meters in both the city and county, as well as thousands of unresolved resident complaints.
Under the tenure of Department of Public Works Director Jason Mitchell, the city has touted improvements to customer service, like the time residents wait on the phone for support.
This story has been updated to correct a miscalculation by Baltimore County. The average cost of water bills for a family of four will increase by $16.91 a year.