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County water rate hikes recommended

April 21, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- The average residential water and sewer customer would pay about $10 more per quarter next fiscal year under rate increases recommended Tuesday by Washington County's Department of Water Quality.

The department needs to raise its revenue 4 percent each year for the next 10 years to afford state-mandated treatment upgrades, and make the water and sewer fund more self-sufficient, Environmental Management Director Julie Pippel said.

The Washington County commissioners voted 4-0 Tuesday to proceed to a public hearing on the proposed increases. Commissioners President John F. Barr was absent for the vote.

Under the proposed changes, a water and sewer customer who uses 12,000 gallons of water per quarter, the county's average amount, would pay $132.50 per quarter for water and $121.20 per quarter for sewer, for a total of $253.70 per quarter. Under the current rates, that same usage costs $127.30 for water and $115.40 for sewer, or a total of $242.70 per quarter.

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The new rates would go into effect July 1, with customers first seeing the increased rates in the fall on their bills for the July-through-September period.

Washington County's water and sewer rates involve a base rate for the first 6,000 gallons and another rate per 1,000 gallons after that.

Under the proposed changes, full-service residential water customers would pay $81.50 for the first 6,000 gallons and $8.50 for each 1,000 gallons after that. Currently, they pay $80.20 for the first 6,000 gallons and $7.85 for each additional 1,000 gallons. That amounts to about a 1.6 percent increase in the base rate and an 8.3 percent increase in the rate for additional usage above the base amount.

For sewer use, full-service residential users would pay $90.30 for the first 6,000 gallons and $5.15 for each 1,000 gallons after that. Currently, they pay $86 for the first 6,000 gallons and $4.90 for each additional 1,000 gallons. Both the base rate and additional rate for sewer would go up about 5 percent.

Commercial rates would also increase under the proposed changes.

One reason the department needs to raise rates is to pay for the addition a few years ago of "enhanced nutrient- removal" technology, which reduces nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater, Pippel said. Maryland committed to the upgrades in 2000 under a Chesapeake Bay restoration agreement.

The county is also phasing out contributions from the general fund to the water and sewer funds with the goal of eventually making the water and sewer funds self-sufficient, Pippel said. For next fiscal year, the county is proposing general fund contributions of $800,000 to the water fund and about $2 million to the sewer fund. By 2013, the county plans to phase those out entirely, Pippel said.

The public hearing on the rate increases is scheduled for May 5, but a time and location have not been set, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

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