In the wake of a damning investigation into Baltimore’s water system and as city residents continue to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, City Council President Nick Mosby called Wednesday for a delay in a water rate increase planned for July.
Speaking during the Board of Estimates meeting, Mosby asked city officials to hold off on the increase for one year, arguing customers can ill afford a hike as the pandemic continues to severely impede the economy.
Mosby also noted a recent report issued by the inspectors general of Baltimore City and Baltimore County in December revealing that tens of thousands of digital water meters in the two jurisdictions are not fully functional. The Democratic council president called on the city law department to investigate any legal avenues to recuperate the $133 million highlighted in the report that was spent to improve the system, to little avail.
“Folks have paid more than enough money into the system over the last 10 years and it’s not delivering what we promised them,” he said.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s spokeswoman, Stefanie Mavronis, said the Democratic mayor is considering Mosby’s suggestion.
“The mayor agrees that Baltimore’s water system has lacked accountability and affordability for our residents,” she said. “It’s the reason he’s committed to bringing accountability to our water billing system.”
The anticipated 9% rate increase would be the second to fall during the pandemic. The hike is part of a measure approved in 2019 that called for 9% increases effective July 1, 2019; July 1, 2020, and July 1, 2021.
At the request of then-Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, the Board of Estimates delayed the 2020 increase for three months in response to the pandemic. It took effect Oct. 1.
Mosby did not make a motion Wednesday to stave off the increase but pledged to bring the issue before the board in the future.
The Board of Estimates would have to vote to approve any delay. Mosby chairs the five-member board, but Scott controls three votes: his, that of acting Public Works Director Matthew Garbark and that of Jim Shea, the mayor’s nominee for city solicitor. The fifth member is Democratic City Comptroller Bill Henry.
Shea began work this week, although his nomination is pending approval by City Council.
Mosby’s fellow board members did not respond to his idea during the meeting.
The rate increases were approved in January 2019 to help pay for federally mandated improvements to the city’s aging water and sewer systems. Baltimore was expected to lose $7.5 million by delaying the rate increase by three months in 2020, city officials said at the time.