The majority of residents across Carroll County can expect to see increases in water rates, as the county and local municipal governments continue to work on Fiscal Year 2013 budgets.
Although most of the FY13 budgets have not yet been finalized, officials from the county government, along with Westminster, Union Bridge, Taneytown, New Windsor, Mount Airy, Manchester and Hampstead all said residents should expect to experience an increase in water rates effective July 1.
Water and sewer rates are enterprise funds, which means the users of the system have to pay for the service provided, said Westminster Mayor Kevin Utz.
One of the reasons water rates are increased is that county and local governments have to invest in capital projects to maintain, improve and upgrade water systems, he said.
"Protecting the quality of our drinking water and ensuring the health of the environment are not options for local jurisdictions," Utz said at a recent Westminster Common Council meeting. "We are in no different of a position than any other city, county or government entity that will need to increase revenues to provide a service."
County Comptroller Rob Burk said in addition to capital projects, water rates are often increased to keep up with operating costs, inflation and growth. In the case of the county, the rates are further affected by the amount Baltimore City charges for water from the Liberty Reservoir, which feeds into the Freedom District Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Baltimore City has increased the cost of water from the Liberty Reservoir each year for the past several years, according to Carroll County Bureau of Utilities Chief Joe Barrington.
Residents using the county water system served by the Freedom District, Pleasant Valley, Bramble Hills and Bark Hills Wastewater Treatment Plants could see an average of a 9 percent increase in water rates to support the costs outlined in the proposed FY13 county budget, Burk said. The county's water rates are based on three tiers of users, depending on the amount of water used. The rates would go from an average between the three tiers of $4.97 per 1,000 gallons used to $5.40 per 1,000 gallons with the proposed 9 percent increase.
Union Bridge residents will see the largest jump in rates within the municipalities, with an increase of 83 percent from $3 per 1,000 gallons used to $5.50 per 1,000 gallons used, while some Westminster residents could actually see a decrease of 3 percent in their water rates.
Like the county, Westminster water rates are based on a three tier system, depending on usage. The average inside the city rate will decrease 3 percent from $6.33 per 1,000 gallons used to $6.14. The average outside the city rate will increase 6 percent from $8.56 per 1,000 gallons used to $9.06.
The water and sewer rates model in Westminster was built for consumers to pay for the service provided and the projects which affect their service, director of finance Gary Ehlers said, which means rates for residents inside the city and residents outside the city can vary depending on the projects from year to year.
Taneytown residents will see a water rate increase of 13 percent from $4.52 per 1,000 gallons to $5.11, but the quarterly fee of $30 will be eliminated, according to Town Manager Henry Heine.
New Windsor Town Manager Frank Schaeffer said the town's water rates will change from $2.80 per 1,000 gallons to $2.94, an increase of 5 percent, and the fixed charge for all water users will increase by $6, from $97 to $103.
Mount Airy will see a 10 percent increase in water rates, and there have also been talks of eliminating the current flat fee of $24.35 for customers using zero to 6,000 gallons of water and replacing it with a fixed charge of $21 to every customer whether or not any water is used, according to Dick Swanson, secretary of the Mount Airy Water and Sewer Commission. Mount Airy uses a progressive rates system; after the fixed charge is instituted, the first tier of users will see a 10 percent increase in water rates from $4.15 to $4.57, and the 10 percent increase will apply to each tier after that, too.
Manchester residents will experience a water rate increase of 6 percent from $2.60 per 1,000 gallons to $2.75, according to Kelly Baldwin, the town's director of finance.
Hampstead Mayor Chris Nevin said Hampstead residents can also expect to see their water rates increase, but he wasn't sure of the exact amounts because town officials are only in the beginning stages of developing the FY13 budget.
Officials across the board echoed the sentiments of Utz and Burk, and said increases in the water rates are necessary and inevitable in order to maintain the system under enterprise funds.