Officials propose rate hikes to pay for WSSC's water

Friday, April 3, 2009

Charles County officials proposed new, higher rates for county utility users Tuesday, including a hike in water costs to pay for the recent purchase of WSSC water.

The county recently opened a new pipeline from Prince George's County to import up to 1.4 million gallons of drinking water per day from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission in order to ease pressure on the county's underground aquifers.

In order to pay for the water being used in current fiscal 2009 and upcoming fiscal 2010, the county has proposed raising the price of 1,000 gallons of water by 12 percent.

The hike is nearly double that of last year's 6.3 percent hike but slightly lower than the 12.1 percent hike in fiscal 2008, according to the county.

Half of the hike is directly attributable to the WSSC purchase. However, the rate could drop to 10.3 percent if the county succeeds in implementing a four-day work week.

County budget officials have requested that the commissioners raise the fiscal 2010 rate, which would begin July 1, from $4.95 for 1,000 gallons of water to $5.25. They requested a sewer rate hike from $2.65 per 1,000 gallons to $3.26.

The water and sewer hikes together total 91 cents per 1,000 gallons. The rate increase would drop to 82 cents if the four-day work week is implemented.

Budget Director David Eicholtz calculated that customers would see their bills rise by $8.80 per quarter or $36 each year.

The average quarterly bill would total $150.68, he said.

"This puts us squarely in the middle of surrounding neighbors," Eicholtz stated. According to a chart produced by his office, average state utility bills range from $204.65 in Carroll County to $103.56 in Harford County. The chart used fiscal 2009 numbers, not proposed fiscal 2010 rates.

Commissioner Gary V. Hodge (D) asked staff about the future and when the county might get more water from WSSC. The county is in negotiations to increase the current 1.4 million gallons a day draw from WSSC to 5 MGD, but the move would require an infrastructure upgrade, according to Utilities Chief William Shreve.

"For the next year or two, I don't see that changing," Shreve said of the 1.4 MGD limit.