Drop in sewer and water rate increases proposed

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt will propose a reduction in sewer and water rate increases at today's Board of Estimates meeting that could save an average family of four nearly $70 a year by cutting into city reserves.

Pratt, who has long opposed rate increases, will propose increasing the city's water rate by 25 percent and its sewer rate by 17 percent over three years - significantly less than the 30 percent increase over three years that has been proposed by the city.

Through her staff, Pratt declined to comment yesterday.

City officials, while not speaking directly to Pratt's proposal, have said the Department of Public Works needs extra reserve money to maintain steady, 9 percent annual increases rather than imposing a large spike in any given year. Surplus money collected now will be used to offset higher expenses that are expected in the future, they say.

Money collected from the increased sewer rates will be used to pay for upgrades to the sewer system that are being required by the federal government.

"We have to make sure that we follow a fiscally sound policy," said Public Works spokesman Kurt L. Kocher. "Our presentation is based on that."

City officials were poised to approve a 30 percent increase phased in over three years at the Board of Estimates meeting last week. But a vote on the increases was postponed until today after Pratt raised questions about the size of the city's reserves.

Pratt said the city has raised a $40 million surplus over the past three years in addition to the money it needs to stabilize the rate.

The 9 percent annual increases - as originally proposed by the city - are back on the agenda for today's meeting and the Board of Estimates is ultimately expected to approve them. Members of the board said last week they would extend the public hearing on the measure until today.

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