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Proposal would hike water, sewer rates by up to 3% in Washington Co.

March 19, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Water and sewer rates for customers of the Washington County Department of Water Quality would increase a few dollars in the fiscal year beginning July under a proposal discussed Tuesday before the Board of County Commissioners.

For the average residential water customer using 12,000 gallons a quarter, the rate would increase by 3 percent — or $3.99 — to $138.95, according to the proposal.

The residential quarterly rate for 6,000 gallons would go from $91.65 to $93.10 on July 1, an increase of 1.6 percent, under the proposal reviewed by Division of Environmental Management Director Julie Pippel.

For residential users who go above 6,000 gallons during a quarter, the charge for the next 6,000 gallons will increase 2.9 percent from $54.36 to $55.92, according to the proposal. For the average residential customer using 12,000 gallons during a quarter, the rate increases from $146.01 to $149.02, the proposal said.

There would be smaller increases for commercial customers, who have been paying higher rates, Pippel said.

The quarterly rate for sewer services for the first 6,000 gallons would increase 2.5 percent, going from $100.70 to $103.25 under the proposed rate hike. For the next 6,000 gallons, the rate would go up 1.44 percent, from $34.26 to $35.70.

The collection fee for testing water would go from $15 to $25, Pippel said. That service is performed about 300 times a year and the increase reflects costs for personnel costs and fuel costs, she said.

A public hearing on the proposed rate increases will be scheduled for April 9, Pippel said.

With the exception of one year for sewer rates and three years for the water fund, rates have been going up annually since the 1996, Pippel said afterward. That year, a financial plan was developed to stabilize the rate increases for customers while making the sewer and water funds self-sufficient by 2012, she said.

In most of those years, the rate increases were lower than the original projected increases, Pippel said.

The county has 1,320 water customers in the areas of Sharpsburg, Mount Aetna, Sandy Hook and Elkridge, Pippel said. There are more than 10,300 sewer customers, primarily in areas not served by the City of Hagerstown, she said.

One funding source the department has not had to rely on since July 1, 2012, is the county’s general fund, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said. Until then, the county contributed $2.7 million a year, but the water and sewer enterprise funds are now self-sufficient between rates paid by users and fund balance reserves, which have been used to reduce the size of annual rate increases, he said.

The county’s contributions to sewer and water service in the past contributed to economic development, by allowing expanded service to areas such as the Hopewell Valley Industrial Park, Murray said.

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