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Baltimore County water rates to increase by 4% beginning July 1

Baltimore County residents will start seeing higher water bills beginning July 1 after the city Board of Estimates unanimously approved a 4% rate increase Wednesday.

The rates will affect residential and commercial property owners, who will see rate increases on the quarterly bill that’s sent out by the city. Metered fire service rates will go up too, to an annual charge of $340.

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Sewer rates, which are set by the county, also will increase by 3% beginning July 1.

Baltimore County and the city share the cost of a drinking water and sewer system operated by the Baltimore Department of Public Works. Based on an agreement dating to the 1970s, the total annual usage of water by county customers is used to calculate how much the county owes the city, and each jurisdiction sets its own rates and fees.

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City residents face a 9% water rate hike this year, the last of three large annual increases in a row approved in 2019 to help pay for federally mandated improvements to the city’s aging water and sewer systems. In 2017, city leaders approved a $1.6 billion plan to rehabilitate Baltimore’s aged sewer system and stop wastewater from leaking into the Inner Harbor and Chesapeake Bay by 2030.

The plan stems from a 2005 consent decree the city and county reached with the federal government requiring them to pay for improvements in the sewer system.

The average bill for a four-person county household is currently a little more than $100 per quarter, according to the city. Sewer charges are based on how much water a household used during the prior calendar year.

Raising rates by 4% will cost county property owners about $2.9 million this year, county government spokesman Sean Naron said.

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Over the past six years, county ratepayers have seen their water and sewer bills hiked by as much as 15% annually to help fund the flawed water and sewer system. Baltimore County has allocated almost $6 million in a six-year spending plan to pay for water system upgrades. For sewer improvements, $1 billion is budgeted.

Meanwhile, the city continues to struggle with water billing issues despite spending at least $133 million over the last decade to upgrade aging meters and fix ongoing problems with meter readings and inaccurate bill charges. The city bills about 200,000 customers on a monthly cycle and 207,000 county ratepayers quarterly.

A joint report from the county and city inspectors general found that malfunctioning meters cut the county’s reimbursements to the city for the cost of providing water.

And thousands of unresolved water meter issues reported by county customers are still sitting with the Baltimore Department of Public Works, according to a recent report by the inspectors general. The city public works department gets an average of 5,000 complaints from city and county ratepayers each month.

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