Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008

WSSC bills to rise 50 percent

Utility to levy $20 monthly fee to improve lines plus 9.5 percent rate hike

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Most residents of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties would see their water and sewer bills jump 50 percent in July to fix aging water mains and pipes that ruptured at record levels last year.

The average residential customer would pay $75 more per quarter (up to $225 from $150) or $300 more annually under the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s proposal.

The plan calls for a $20 per month ‘‘infrastructure renewal fee” and a 9.5 percent rate increase.

‘‘This is a large cost. We are concerned for our residents,” WSSC General Manager Andrew D. Brunhart said Friday.

But ‘‘the alternative is to Band-Aid and wait,” he said. ‘‘There will be more breaks until we get ahead of this aging pipe — we need to stand up to it now.”

The utility’s plan and budget will be reviewed by the two counties’ councils in the spring. If the counties agree on a budget, that becomes the utility’s budget; if they don’t, the agency’s proposal goes in effect by default.

Brunhart said the agency hopes to increase funds available to residents who cannot afford to pay for water and sewer service. That fund depends on donations and is administered by the Salvation Army.

The proposal comes after six years of no rate increases from 1999 through 2004, while the public utility restructured and fended off efforts to make it go private. Rate increases since 2004 have averaged less than 3 percent, but one last year raised rates 6.5 percent. Those increases do not include the state-mandated ‘‘flush tax” of $2.50 a month.

The utility’s lawyer said the infrastructure renewal fee is allowed under a state law that authorizes ‘‘ready-to-serve” charges. But WSSC is waiting for a ruling on that by the attorney general, Brunhart said.

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