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City considering changes in water, sewer rate structure

September 28, 2005|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN

andrews@herald-mail.com

The city is considering cutting in-city water rates and increasing out-of-city rates.

Sewer usage rates would stay roughly the same, but a new billing structure would cut charges for the lowest users.

Also, the current practice of charging customers for at least 10,000 gallons per quarter would be eliminated.

"It basically makes people more accountable for their usage," Alfred Martin, the city's finance director, said Monday during an interview.

With in-city rates dropping and out-of-city rates going up, outside water users would be charged 111 percent more - just over double - than what inside users pay.

Currently, outside users pay 50 percent more.

The proposals includes higher rates for the three Washington County towns that buy water from the city - Smithsburg, Williamsport and Funkstown.

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Smithsburg Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said in an interview Tuesday that the town previously faced a 62 percent increase in water rates, which she called "devastating."

Martin said the increase was cut and now stands at about 13 percent.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposed rate structure Oct. 25. It would take effect 30 days later.

Those who use the least water and sewer service would benefit the most under the new plan.

As an example, a chart showed an in-city quarterly water bill for 1,000 gallons dropping from $14.50 - the current minimum charge - to $4.45.

The same sewer service usage would cost $7.75 instead of $34.20.

Moderate and high users, though, would see increases in their bills, especially for water service.

For sewer service, out-of-city sewer customers would pay about 65 percent more under the proposal than in-city customers.

A consultant's report recommended greater gaps for both water and sewer rates. Martin said the city lowered some out-of-city rates after getting feedback from Washington County and its consultant.

The only speaker at Tuesday's public hearing, Greg Murray, Washington County's quality director, said that was appreciated.

Funkstown would pay 7 percent more for water under the proposal, Martin said. He was unable to get Williamsport's records to figure out its increase.

Funkstown Mayor Robert L. Kline said Tuesday afternoon that the water-rate increase comes on top of a required sewer system upgrade in his town.

Kline and Myers said their towns haven't decided whether to pass all of the rate increase to customers.

Williamsport, which has financial problems, likely would pass its higher costs to its customers, Mayor James G. McCleaf II said.

"We can't eat it," he said, adding, "I don't know what older people are going to do."

According to a chart presented Tuesday, 46 percent of the city's water customers live in the city and 54 percent do not.

The breakdown for sewer customers is 68 percent inside the city and 32 percent outside the city.

Martin said Monday that it has been about 15 years since a sewer rate study was done and about 50 years since water rates were thoroughly studied.




The changes



The Hagerstown water and sewer rate structure considered Tuesday would mean the following changes for the average residential user (13,000 gallons per quarter):

  • Water, inside city: Increase from $18.85 to $20.17

  • Water, outside city: Increase from $28.21 to $42.51

  • Sewer, inside city: Increase from $44.46 to $48.67

  • Sewer, outside city: Increase from $73.32 to $79.82
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