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After rereading 365 meters and reviewing data from the last three years, the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works believes that increased water bills in Crofton, Gambrills and Odenton are reflective of actual water consumption.

Last week hundreds of residents in this area expressed concern when they received high water bills, some as much as double the bill they got during the same period in 2018. They wondered whether there was a problem with their meter, or a billing error on the county’s side, and the Department of Public Works agreed to waive the $35 meter reread fee for anyone concerned.

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But after rereading meters and looking at historic data, Director of Public Works Christopher Phipps said drought conditions during the late summer months of the billing cycle explain the increases on the bill.

The recent bill charges for usage during the July through October period, when it rained less than half as much in 2019 than it did in 2018. Certainly, he said, people watered their lawns more, and generally used more water than they did last year due to drought conditions.

So, comparing this year’s bill and last year’s bill, Phipps said, it makes sense that there would be a large difference.

He used 2017 as a base year, with average rainfall of 16.65 inches during the late summer and early fall months, to compare rainfall and water use patterns. With an analysis of the Crofton Valley neighborhood, Phipps showed that in 2018, most homes used slightly less water than they had in 2017.

A comparison between 2019 and 2017 showed that most homes used slightly more water — many homes used just less than double the amount of water. But a comparison between 2019 and 2018, showed that many homes used more than double or triple the amount of water — one home multiplying their water usage by nearly eight times.

Alayna Charland, a longtime Crofton resident whose water bill nearly tripled from 2018, said this still doesn’t add up for her. Her bill for this quarter in 2017 was $394.72, in 2018 it was $347.60, and in 2019 it was $1,292.53.

She had a plumber check her property for leaks, but did not find any. She’s still waiting on a reread from the county.

For her, the hike in prices is unfathomable.

Why isn’t this happening in other parts of the county?

Although the county is largely impacted by the same weather patterns, this region of the county was hit the hardest with the high water bills because of a staggered billing pattern the Department of Public Works uses.

They have divided the county into six regions, which are billed at different times. Phipps said this is strategic — they only have so many people to go out and read meters, and it spreads out the work.

This region is comprised of 23,000 properties, Phipps said.

While surely people in other areas of the county watered more during the dry summer and fall months, many of the other regions had those months split into two different billing cycles, which would likely mean they had two bills go up slightly, rather than one bill go up significantly.

“Their second bill got caught right in the second half of that drought period so they saw the full effect of that drought,” Phipps said. “The others are probably going to straddle it, there [bill] will be in part of the drought and part of the wet season so it could very well cancel out.”

What exactly is on a water bill?

Additionally, the county takes note when a property consumes more than 30,000 gallons during the quarter — the price increases $0.03 per 1,000 gallons. So instead of charging $2.83 per 1,000 gallons, anything above 30,000 gallons costs $2.86 per 1,0000 gallons.

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Further adding to the water bill costs, the county website cites July 2019 increases of 4.8% for water and 4.9% for sewer or wastewater. The County Code permits that increases under 5% do not have to be approved by the County Council.

What came of all the rereads?

Matt Diehl, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works, said that after rereading 365 meters as of Friday afternoon, they found that about 8.5% or 31 properties showed signs of a potential leak.

When technicians read a meter, they have the resident turn off all the faucets in the home, and then check the meter. If the meter keeps going while all the faucets are off, it would indicate a potential leak, Diehl said.

In the case of a leak, Diehl said the Department of Public Works will work with the customer to reduce the cost if the customer provides proof that the leak was remedied by a plumber.

Paying the bills

Diehl said if it’s found that the water bill reflects actual water consumption, customers will be expected to pay that price. Payments for this quarter are due on Dec. 16, after which a 10% late fee will be added to the bill. Diehl said that if a customer is actively working with the Department of Public Works to establish clarity on their bill and get questions answered, they will not be subject to the late fee.

Anyone who is concerned can contact the county, Diehl said. Meter re-read requests can be sent to pwcust00@aacounty.org or call 410-222-1144.

There are opportunities for payment plans, Diehl said, but that is worked out through the billing office and the Department of Finance.

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