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City water, sewer rate hikes might be phased in

August 18, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Water and sewer rate increases are still on tap this fall in Hagerstown, but likely will be much lower than expected at the start.

The latest plan before the Hagerstown City Council calls for five straight years of water-rate increases averaging 5.5 percent for residents inside the city and 7 percent for those outside, beginning in 2009-10.

During the same five-year period, annual sewer-rate increases would average 7 percent inside the city and 4 percent outside the city.

In the spring, a preliminary 2009-10 city budget projected a 12.75 percent increase for water rates and an 11.5 percent increase for sewer rates.

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The city had Municipal & Financial Services Group, a consulting business, study the issue and make a report.

The report Municipal & Financial Services Group presented Tuesday shows five years of consistent water and sewer rate increases, rather than a large increase at one time.

The city council won't formally decide on the rates for several weeks. The council is scheduled to discuss the new proposal at meetings in September.

A public hearing will be held Sept. 8.

The council is scheduled to vote Sept. 22 on rate increases, allowing them to take effect Nov. 1.

Al Martin, the city's finance director, said the city raised water rates 3.5 percent for 2006-07 and they have stayed steady since then.

Sewer rates also rose 3.5 percent when water rates last went up. The last two years, sewer rates increased 12.2 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively.

Martin said the city's sewer system has higher capital and debt-service costs.

The newest proposal also calls for higher fixed charges for water and sewer customers.

Quarterly fixed charges would increase from $3.25 to $5.27 for water customers inside the city and from $6.86 to $14.78 for customers outside the city.

The quarterly fixed-rate charge for sewer customers would rise from $5.16 to $15.45 for in-city customers and from $9.21 to $28.60 for out-of-city customers, according to the consulting company's plan.

In addition, a new rate structure is being considered for residential water users.

Currently, the city charges $1.35 per 1,000 gallons.

The new structure would lower the rate to $1.22 for customers using up to 18,000 gallons per quarter. Those who use more than 18,000 gallons per quarter would pay a rate twice as high -- $2.44 per 1,000 gallons.

The city considers 13,000 gallons a quarter to be average usage for residential customers.

The council discussed whether the residential rate change would be unfair for large families and if higher rates would encourage conservation.

"I think no matter how this goes, it's going be ugly," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said.

The proposed rate increases would affect Williamsport, Funkstown and Smithsburg, which buy their municipal water from the city.

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