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Water rates could rise every year

March 17, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Water and sewer rates in Washington County may have to increase every year through 2014, depending on the progress the county makes in paying off the water and sewer debt, according to a county official.

Washington County Director of Water Quality Greg Murray proposed Tuesday at a County Commissioners meeting that water and sewer rates for fiscal year 2005 be increased by 3 percent a year.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the commissioners would hold a public hearing on that proposal. They did not set a date for the hearing at the meeting.

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Water and sewer rates also increased by 3 percent for the current fiscal year.

The sewer bill for an average residential customer, defined by the county as someone who uses 12,000 gallons of water a quarter, would be about $3 more per quarter in fiscal year 2005, according to county figures.

The average residential customer who uses 12,000 gallons of water a quarter would pay $3.28 more per quarter in fiscal year 2005.

An average residential sewer bill would increase from $99.80 to $102.80 per quarter, according to the proposal.

The water bill for an average residential customer would increase from $109.60 to $112.88 per quarter.

"So that's about six or seven cigarettes a month," County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

"For the price of a bottle of Pepsi, you can get 12,000 gallons of clean water," Murray said.

Murray said it is projected that water rates will increase by 3 percent a year through 2014 and that sewer rates will increase by 3 percent in fiscal year 2006 and then by 4 percent per year through 2014 to help pay off the water and sewer debt.

The projected increases to the sewer rate through 2014 does not include the "flush tax" of $2.50 the state has proposed be added to sewer bills.

Revenue from the proposed state tax would go toward the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

The projected rate increases for each year through 2014 may be lower than expected, depending on the shape of the water and sewer budgets through that time, Murray said.

The county's water and sewer debt is approximately $43 million. It was $54.8 million in 1996, when the commissioners approved a long-term plan to chisel away at the debt and make water and sewer operations self-supporting.

Murray said the proposed rate increases for fiscal year 2005 and the projected increases through 2014 are part of that plan.

"It's going quite well," Murray said. "It seems like things are on track."

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