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Proposal would raise Washington Co. residential water and sewer bills 3%

March 13, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — A public hearing will be held on proposed water-and-sewer rate hikes, as well as a plan to shorten the notice period before utility service is turned off for customers who do not pay their bills, the Washington County Board of Commissioners decided Tuesday.

The average county water-and-sewer residential customer’s bill would increase by about 3 percent, or an additional $8.05 per quarter, under the proposal, said Julie Pippel, the county’s director of environmental management.

The proposed changes to notice procedures would give late accounts three notices and at least 42 days before shutoff, as opposed to four notices and at least 72 days under current practice. The plan would also change when the county would charge delinquent-account fees.

The rate hikes are lower than projected by a county model that called for stabilized increases of 4 percent per year through at least 2020, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

“There has been some shift in operational protocols (and) there has been at least a little bit of growth on the system,” Murray said in explaining the lower-than-anticipated rate increase.

The rate hikes would include increases to both the base rates and rates per additional volume, which vary for different types of customers.

For the typical residential customer using 12,00 gallons of water per quarter, the quarterly water bill would increase from $141.80 to $146.01 — an increase of $4.21 or 3 percent. The quarterly sewer bill would increase from $131.12 to $134.96 — an increase of $3.84 or 2.9 percent, Pippel said.

Explaining the proposal to change procedures for delinquent accounts, Murray said: “We basically send out a bill to pay, then we send out one that says, ‘We mean it.’ Then we send out another one that says, ‘We really mean it.’ Then we send out another one that says, ‘We really, really mean it.’ So by that point, they have a second bill, and they’re already two cycles behind on payment.”

The changes would allow the county to work out a collection plan before the next bill comes out. The county has various ways of working with those who are struggling, such as working with the Community Action Council, he said.

Pippel said some customers routinely wait to pay until they get their final notice — a door hanger giving them 48 hours’ notice before shutoff.

The proposed changes to delinquent-account fees bring those fees more in line with actual expenses, Murray said.

Currently, once the final 48 hours have passed without payment, the county charges a flat fee of $120 for sewer-only customers, $30 for water-only customers, or $150 for water and sewer customers.

The proposal is to charge a $30 delinquent account charge when the 48-hour door notice is posted to cover the cost of delivering it, then charge $50 if service is actually shut off, plus another $50 when it is turned back on. If the shutoff or turn-on are during non-business hours, that fee would be $75.

The commissioners voted 4-0 to take the rate increases and delinquent account changes to a public hearing. Commissioner John F. Barr was absent.

A date for the hearing has not been set.

The changes are part of the county’s fiscal 2013 budget, which the commissioners typically approve in May.

Fiscal 2013 begins July 1.

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