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Baltimore water bill hike could mean increase for Carroll residents, too

The cost of water around Central Maryland could be going up as Baltimore officials consider increases for both city residents as well as counties that purchase bulk water from the city, including Carroll.

Baltimore residents would pay about 33 percent more for water and be charged two new fees under a three-year plan being considered by city officials to help fix the city's crumbling infrastructure and error-plagued billing system. Water rates would increase an average of 9.9 percent annually and sewer rates would increase 9 percent a year through 2018. The plan also calls for new "infrastructure" and "account management" charges.

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The cost to a typical residential customer would increase from $233.12 per quarter to $275.53 by 2019.

Officials plan to increase water rates in bulk purchases made by Carroll, Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties by similar amounts.

Carroll County government pays Baltimore to use water from the city-owned Liberty Reservoir in the county's water system.

On Tuesday, Carroll County Budget Director Ted Zaleski wrote in an email that he wasn't immediately sure what the exact impact on county residents would be.

In April, county staff told the Board of County Commissioners that the cost of providing water through the county system is increasing. After hearing a recommendation to raise water rates 10 percent for residents on the county system, the Board of Commissioners voted to impose a super majority on water and sewer rate increases, meaning four of five members of the board must vote in favor of an increase in order for it to pass.

The commissioners ultimately passed a 7-percent rate hike for Carroll customers.

The money acquired by the county through water and sewer rates is used to cover the costs of operating, repairing and maintaining the system, Zaleski said in April. If the county does not increase rates, but the cost of getting the water to customers increases, repair and maintenance could be affected, Zaleski warned at the time.

Baltimore's finance and public work directors are recommending the rate increases to the Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. The Department of Public Works has requested a public hearing in August.

"Baltimore City must continue to invest in our underground infrastructure," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement Tuesday. "Raising rates is never easy, but ensuring quality water service and a cleaner environment has to be our legacy."

The proposed rate increases are expected to draw some opposition.

Michael Eugene Johnson, director of the Paul Robeson Institute for Social Change, said in an email he's rallying community members to "take a stand and organize against this … 'life and death' issue."

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said her auditors are analyzing the proposal to determine whether the rate increase is necessary.

Rawlings-Blake blamed Congress for not providing cities with more federal money to upgrade aging pipes and plants.

"Because this has not been done," she said, "we alone must continue the progress we have made to protect our citizens by renewing our mains and reducing disruptions caused by water main breaks and sewer overflows."

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Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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