On June 27, the Board of Estimates voted to approve a 9 percent water- and sewer-bill rate increase, effective immediately, to help pay for what a Department of Public Works press release called “unfunded mandates.”

“We are moving from an unsustainable rate of under five miles per year of [water] main rehabilitation, to a more acceptable 20 miles per year,” Bureau of Water and Wastewater Chief Rudolph Chow said in the statement. “Our goal is to reach 40 miles each year within five years.”

In fact, the city’s water and sewer systems have been deteriorating for decades—at least since Mayor William Donald Schaefer elected to sink hundreds of millions of federal dollars into showy tourist attractions instead of needed maintenance and upgrades to the city’s invisible infrastructure. The projected costs now are staggering: $3.1 billion, according to the Department of Public Works. And the rate increases are, themselves, expected to increase in the coming years, according to a report in the online Baltimore Brew:

“[City] auditor [Robert] McCarty said the administration plans on a 12 percent water-rate hike in 2014 and 2015, followed by a 15 percent hike in 2016 and 2017, returning to a 9 percent hike in 2018.”

That totals up to 98 percent over six years, and could lift a $500 annual bill to $990. This at a time when (as the Brew also reported) the city has foregone more than $5 million in unpaid water and sewer charges from now-bankrupt RG Steel. Even as construction crews lay new pipe, leaks are endemic. In the 30 days between May 26 and June 26, the city’s 311 system took 577 complaints about sewer water in the basements of people’s homes (see Full Map).

Schools need $2.5 billion rebuild, report says

City and school officials joined a nonprofit Baltimore Education Coalition to release a consultant’s report calling for nearly $2.5 billion in capital improvements to city schools.

“This report reaffirms that city school buildings are in a state of crisis,” Richard May, parent of two city school students, said in the coalition’s press release. “It is blindingly clear that the current method of providing small amounts of capital funding each year to do patch jobs on buildings that need total replacement, is not only a disservice to the children and staff in the buildings but is an inefficient way of approaching school construction.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore City Schools CEO Andrés Alonso want to begin a 10-year construction boom to bring the buildings up to modern standards using state and federal block grants to augment the 3-cent bottle tax the city passed this month.

Whose turf?

Shootings and killings are bothering City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young enough that he asked his own council representative, Carl Stokes (12th District), to set up a meeting in his Eastside district with police and community members.

“There was a third killing within a block and a half of my home,” said Young. Stokes thanked him for his concern, saying “a turf war” seems to have broken out.

No-foam Zone

Councilman Jim Kraft (1st District) introduced a proposal (bill 12-0104) to ban Styrofoam food containers, citing their non-recyclable nature and their tendency to end up in the harbor. “The EPA has declared us a trash-impaired harbor,” Kraft told the council. “We will, in all likelihood, have to, within the next year and a half, impose some kind of fee” to help clean the harbor up.

Catering to whom?

Neighbors of the Visions Catering Service, at 5503 Richard Ave., are trying to block the business from becoming a banquet hall. They say it’s operated illegally as a banquet hall for years and that violence has marred the operation—including a 2010 shooting murder.

“In addition to the murder, residents and police have witnessed the selling of tickets at the door and alcohol inside the doors without proper permitting from the Liquor Board,” residents wrote in a press release ahead of a hearing on the matter.

Then there’s the ultimate issue in every Baltimore dispute: “Visions does not have the legal amount of parking required by zoning for a Banquet Hall license.” The neighbors want Councilman Robert Curran to withdraw his support for the business. Curran (3rd District) is already in hot water with some neighbors for not opposing a big Royal Farms development nearby.

Dog determinations

The council is considering an ordinance, sponsored by Councilman Jim Kraft (1st District), to alter city rules on pets. Bill 12-0106 would repeal the requirement that cats be licensed, stop the shelter from killing animals as soon as their owner’s (animal) license is revoked, regulate cat traps, establish standards for animal shelters’ operations, including their euthanasia program.

It also requires twice-daily cleaning of cages at the animal shelter, a standard that has not always been met in the past.