Hearing on water bill woes Wednesday afternoon

Baltimore residents who are frustrated over high or unusual water bills will have a chance to vent to city officials Wednesday afternoon.

A City Council committee will hold a hearing on a contentious resolution asking MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake to prevent homes from going to tax sale due to unpaid water bills after a scathing audit showed widespread billing errors.

The Sun has detailed numerous billing problems, chronicling one woman's seven-year struggle to convince the city she was being billed neighbors' water usage and a family's efforts to resolve a whopping $16,000 bill.

More than 3,000 properties are included on the city's tax sale list due to unpaid water bills.  The owners have until the end of next month to make arrangements with the city to prevent the ale of their properties.

While the council unanimously passed the resolution seeking a moratorium, Rawlings-Blake opposes it.

Rawlings-Blake contends that a moratorium on liens for water bills is unnecessary.  Liens are only placed against properties for which the city has not received a payment in more than a year.  The liens are an important tool for the city to collect revenue and abolishing them could affect the city's bond rating, she says.

But others, most notably Council PresidentBernard C."Jack" Young, have called for a cessation of the liens until the billing issues are resolved.  Young says that residents should not be forced to pay for bills that they did not accrue.

The hearing will take place in front of the council's Taxation and Finance committee, which is chaired by Councilman Carl Stokes.  Stokes, who co-sponsored the resolution along with Young, described the billing issues as a "crisis" in an email.