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Carroll County water and sewer rates to increase over next three years, hikes necessary to preserve system, officials say

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners passed a Fiscal Year 2020 budget Tuesday without any tax increases. But the board also passed a water and sewer ordinance, a plan that increases county water and sewer rates over the next three years, beginning July 1, the first day of FY20.

As an enterprise fund, the county water and sewer system is funded entirely by user fees collected according to the rates set by the board. This, the first increase in those rates since FY17, was necessary to keep up with increasing fixed costs and ensure the county does not fall behind in critical maintenance to the system, according to Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1.

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“When it comes to infrastructure, we can’t play catch-up there. We’ve got to have the ability to replace and repair when we need to,” he said. “Water and sewer are critically important. We had really no choice in the matter.”

Under the existing rate structure, the Carroll County Department of Public Works had to scale back some maintenance projects, according to Director Jeffrey Castonguay.

“We got to the point where we had cut back everything operationally,” he said. “We had to either slow down or stop our rehab projects, our meter replacement, fire hydrant replacements and sewer pump station equipment replacements.”

County water and sewer fees are billed on a quarterly basis, and the current water rate based on usage is $6.74 per thousand gallons for 0 to 10,000 gallons, $6.87 per thousand gallons for 10,001 to 30,000 gallons and $7.02 per thousand gallons for more than 30,000 gallons — per quarter — with a base charge of $9.14 per quarter.

The current sewer rates are $8.65 per thousand gallons for 0 to 10,000 gallons, $9.14 per thousand gallons for 10,001 to 30,000 gallons and $9.62 per thousand gallons for more than 30,000 gallons, with a base charge of $12.75 per quarter.

Those rates will now increase in each of the next three fiscal years.

The water rates for FY20, beginning July 1, will be $7.34 per thousand gallons for 0 to 10,000 gallons, $7.50 per thousand gallons for 10,001 to 30,000 gallons and $7.68 per thousand gallons for more than 30,000 gallons, with a base charge of $9.93 per quarter.

The sewer rates for FY20 will be $8.98 per thousand gallons for 0 to 10,000 gallons, $9.51 per thousand gallons for 10,001 to 30,000 gallons and $10.08 per thousand gallons for more than 30,000 gallons, with a base charge of $13.92 per quarter.

In FY21, beginning July 1, 2020, water rates will increase to $7.94, $8.12 and $8.35 per thousand gallons, respectively, with a $10.73 base charge, while sewer rates will be charged at $9.30, $9.88 or $10.53 per thousand gallons, with a base charge of $15.08.

In FY22, water rates will be $8.54, $8.75 and $9.01 per thousand gallons with a base charge of $11.52, and sewer rates will be $9.63, $10.25 and $10.99 per thousand gallons with a $16.25 base charge.

People will begin to see the new rates — for FY20 — appear on their bills later this year depending on when their bill comes due, according to Castonguay.

“If somebody’s quarter ends at the end of July, they will have one month of the new rate,” he said. “If their quarter ends in August, it will be two months and September, a full quarter.”

The new rates will be adequate to fund the planned maintenance and replacement work his department needs to get started to keep after, Castonguay said.

“Down on the eastern side of the Freedom Area,” he said, “is the first contract of the first pipes that were ever put in place in our system, in the mid-to-late-’60s. That has to be replaced.”

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Water valves need to be replaced at regular intervals, Castonguay said, in order to avoid unnecessary shutoffs while, say, repairing a water main break.

“Instead of shutting off 10, 15 people, we might have to shut off blocks or even zones, that could be hundreds of people without water, because the valves aren’t working,” he said.

A similar maintenance and replacement schedule concerns fire hydrants.

“We have to stay up on hydrants because that’s public safety,” Castonguay said. “As they age, the metal becomes brittle, starts rusting. The last thing you want somebody to do is go to a fire hydrant in an emergency and something not work.”

In general, Castonguay said, the ideal is to keep investing in preventive corrections in order to avoid emergency fixes, which ultimately increase costs for everyone using the water and sewer system.

“We are always looking for ways to further control costs,” he said. “Hopefully we will see some corrections in those rates over a few years, and hopefully they will not increase as much or even keep flat.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the way the water and sewer rates are assessed. The rates are assessed per thousand gallons of usage per quarter.

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