Water, sewer bills might rise 67 percent; Increase proposed to pay for repairs to aging system

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Annapolis homeowners could see their annual water and sewer bills go up by as much as $67 over the next five years under a plan recommended by engineering consultants.

The study by Kansas City-based Black & Veatch Corp. suggests raising the rates by 44 percent this year up to a total of 62 percent to 67 percent by 2004 to enable the Department of Public Works to repair sewer and water pipes without digging into reserve funds or borrowing. The study is to be presented to the city council Monday.

"It's been 11 years since we changed water and sewer rates and it's time we looked at it," said Mayor Dean L. Johnson, who has been considering an increase since last spring after city officials used reserve funds to cover a $600,000 operating deficit in the Department of Public Works. "We are going to need additional funds," he said.

City homeowners who use between 5,000 and 35,000 gallons of water annually are charged $1.20 per 1,000 gallons of water and $1.68 per 1,000 gallons for sewer service. Their bills range from $14.80 to $100 a year, depending on the amount of water used. Most households fall within that range of use.

Under the first option, water and sewer bills would increase by 44.8 percent the first year, 5 percent the next year, by 5.3 percent the third year and finally, by 4.4 percent. This plan would bring in enough revenue to cover the department's operational costs by the end of the first year, according to Robert Ambrose, project manager for Black & Veatch.

Under the second option, bills would go up by about 21.7 percent the first year, 15.1 percent the next year, 12.6 percent the third year and then 3 percent. Under this plan, the department would be operationally self-sufficient by 2002, Ambrose said.

The third option proposes a 16.3 percent increase the first year, then 26.4 percent, 4.1 percent and 8.6 percent. The department would not be self-sufficient until 2003 under this option.

Johnson said he supports the second option.

"It doesn't hit quite as hard the first year, and the net percentage increase is less," he said.

The rates would increase by 62.5 percent by 2004 under the second option, Ambrose said, but by as much as 66 percent and 67 percent under the other options.

The increases are essential to pay for repairs to old water and sewer systems that are collapsing, Johnson said. City officials became aware of the urgency of the problem two years ago when two deteriorated sewer pipes collapsed.

"Those happened to be concrete pipes that had been built over the last 60 years or so, and the backyard and the street just fell into the hole," Johnson said. "We have one occurring right now on Prince George Street that has been collapsing for several weeks.

"Once you get a system as old as ours, you should know that you're going to have a certain number of these calls. Some of the water lines we're working on now date back to 1874."

The city is spending $1 million a year over the next five years renovating the sewer system. The estimated cost of bringing the water and sewer systems up to date is $10 million, Johnson said.

The large rate increases proposed surprised some aldermen yesterday.

"That's a lot of money," said Alderman Cynthia A. Carter, a Ward 6 Democrat. Johnson "will have to do a lot of persuasion to show me why this is something that I should even consider."

It will be up to the City Council to pass a resolution to adopt the recommendations.

"We've got repairs to make, we need to expand our sewer capacity, and we have not addressed these problems," Johnson said. "It's just like operating a fleet of cars -- you've got to replace the tires every 40,000 miles."

Pub Date: 3/19/99

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