Since then, he said, there has been an improvement in customer service.
Employees have completed 4,454 work orders this year compared with 2,394 during the same time period last year, he said. The average time it takes to perform a work order — such as double-checking a meter after a citizen complains about a high reading — has dropped from 39 days to 20 days.
"This is a big elephant that we are trying to fight, and we have to take one bite out of it at a time," Chow said
In testimony before the board, McCarty said the rate increases "appear reasonable."
Even so, he noted that the city projects double-digit increases in future years — 12 percent in both 2014 and 2015 and 15 percent in both 2016 and 2017 — which he argues could be averted through more efficient management.
"We continue to recommend that DPW seek additional cost-saving measures," McCarty said.
Before the vote on the increase, several citizens spoke passionately against it.
"We're sick and tired of being taxed to death," said Joe Collins Jr. of Canton. "You all keep taxing us, you can kiss the 10,000 people goodbye," he said of the mayor's goal of attracting 10,000 families to the city.
Chow said he was aware of customers' concerns. "This is why we have kept our request to single digits," he said.
The city system serves some residents of Baltimore County as well as Baltimore. Qualifying low-income customers can seek assistance with their bills by calling 410-396-5890, officials said.
The board also approved increases for city water used in Howard, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties. They buy city water in bulk for some residents and determine what to charge them.
Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.