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Hagerstown mayor argues against raising water rates

April 30, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II urged city staff on Tuesday to eliminate a water-rate increase proposed for next year.

A budget draft calls for the water rate for in-city customers to rise 3.5 percent and the sewer rate to rise 6 percent.

Finance Director Al Martin said in an interview that the costs of energy and chemicals are driving the increases.

A written summary shows that electricity is expected to cost 35 percent more for sewer-system operations and 9 percent more for water operations.

Additionally, for sewer operations, costs will rise 30 percent both for natural gas and for chemicals, the summary says.

At a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, Bruchey suggested that the city use a dividend that would have been paid out of the water fund to instead offset the rate increase for water customers.

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The dividend would be about $250,000, about $9,000 less than the projected revenue from a 3.5 percent water-rate increase, according to Martin.

Councilman Martin E. Brubaker asked if the sewer-rate increase also could be cut back -- to about 3 percent, matching a typical rate of inflation.

"We'd have to find $265,000 worth of reductions," replied Michael Spiker, the city's director of utilities.

The combined effect of the higher sewer and water rates would be an increase of about 5 percent, or $4.04 a quarter, for people living inside the city, according to the summary.

The total increase would be about 6 percent, or $8.54 a quarter, for people living outside the city but who receive city water and sewer service.

Those living in joint city-county service areas would see a total increase of about 4 percent, or $7.68 a quarter.

The figures are preliminary and could change, particularly if city staff meets Bruchey's request.

Public hearings for the rate increases and the city's $163.3 million budget proposal for 2008-09 are scheduled to be held next week.

For people living within the city, a 3.5-percent increase would mean a water rate increasing from $20.80 to $21.56 per quarter, according to a summary chart. That's based on average usage of 13,000 gallons a quarter.

For in-city residents, a 6-percent increase would raise the sewer rate from $54.66 to $57.94 per quarter, also assuming average usage of 13,000 gallons.

City charts show the proposed in-city water rate for that usage would be the lowest among eight municipalities compared in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.

The in-city sewer rate for that usage would be the fifth-lowest among the eight municipalities.

Hagerstown's water rates did not increase from 2006-07 to 2007-08, the current year.

However, sewer rates went up 8.5 percent for customers living within the city and 16 percent for people living outside the city, Martin said.

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