Officials told of water-bill woes

The Baltimore Sun

.. Nine Baltimore residents detailed wildly fluctuating water bills at a City Council committee hearing yesterday.

Linda Stewart of Curtis Bay prepared a stack of spreadsheets for council members and officials with the city's public works and finance departments to support her belief that problems are widespread.

Water bills for one of her properties, in the 4900 block of Curtis Ave., rose from $40 to $800 in a matter of months, she said. The city ultimately put the building up for tax sale because she did not pay the bills.

"I've looked up every water bill in Curtis Bay," said Stewart, who added that many of her neighbors also witnessed sharp increases in their bills.

Elected officials convened the hearing so that they could hear from residents who say they have experienced wildly fluctuating water bills, as well as to receive and review the latest report of the number of homes put up for tax sales during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

When property owners have an outstanding payment of more than $100 for the current quarter and have been delinquent for the previous two quarters, the city sells liens for properties to investors, said Stanley J. Milesky, chief of the Bureau of Treasury Management in the city's Department of Finance.

Of 9,463 city properties with liens taken to tax sale in May, 1,573 were sold because of outstanding water bills only - about 16.6 percent, he said.

"It's higher than perhaps anyone would like, but we've done the best we could to bring that down and continue to work on that," Milesky said.

George L. Winfield, director of the Department of Public Works, said some of its 20 meter readers, who check properties in the city and in Baltimore County, have been "removed ... from employment" during the past six months as a result of investigations of complaints about high water bills.

"They were somewhat falsifying some of the reads," he said. "In some cases, they just did not perform their jobs."

Mayor Sheila Dixon's office is seeking an opinion on a possible amnesty for water bills, similar to one previously set up for parking tickets, said spokesman Anthony McCarthy.

"We have to be very careful about overreaching, but the mayor is committed to finding some way to find relief and clearing the slate for some families in Baltimore," McCarthy said.


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