Remember that time that Baltimore emerged as a water justice leader and became the FIRST major city to ban water privatization? WELL. Get ready for more big water work from Charm City!
Now that corporate hawks looking to make another dime at the expense of Baltimore’s water are no longer tangible threats, we’re gearing up to fix the system we saved.
When we fought to keep Baltimore’s water public, we were not fighting for a system that we think is perfectly functioning. Rather, we knew that if the system was privatized it would just get worse -- and we would have little to ZERO ability to change it.
Because of all of the hard work Baltimoreans put in to keep our water public, we have the chance to improve the public system. And we intend to make major improvements.
First up: the Water Accountability and Equity Act.
The Water Accountability and Equity Act will be introduced by Baltimore City Council President Jack Young with major support from the rest of city council. It’s slated to do 2 major things:
- Establish an income-based water affordability program called ‘Water-For-All Discount Program’ for low-income residents; and
- Create an ‘Office of Water Customer Advocacy and Appeals’ to assure a fair process for all customers to resolve billing problems.
Basically, this bill will make sure all people in Baltimore can afford their water AND it will provide all people in Baltimore with a fair and neutral means of resolving billing problems.
Let’s Break It Down.
The income-based billing program can actually be boiled down to one simple, trigger-warning for all you math haters, formula: C = B - I x A
Don’t be intimidated by this formula, I spent algebra doodling imaginary escape routes out of my classroom, and even I can follow this one:
- C is the water-for-all credit, so it’s the money.
- B is the estimated annual water and sewer bill, based on historical previous usage.
- I is the recipient’s estimated annual household income.
- A is the affordability threshold (so the line for what qualifies someone to be eligible for this program).
In sum: this bill will utilize a formula to identify how much will be included in the water-for-all credit -- and the formula considers income, cost of the annual water bill, and the affordability threshold.
More Than Just Money.
While establishing a program to assist Baltimoreans with water payments by creating an income-based affordability system is urgently needed, this bill includes another extremely important improvement to the water system as well.
The ‘Office of Water Customer Advocacy and Appeals’ and the ‘Committee for Office Oversight’ will play the role of empowering Baltimore water customers.
Right now, when customers face incorrect water bills (which happens FAR more often than you’d expect), DPW’s response places blame on the customer and fails to respond at all. Nothing happens. No one answers. And nobody is held accountable for billing mistakes and problems.
To combat this lack of response, the Water Accountability and Equity Act creates an entire office that will be dedicated to fielding water billing problems and also proactively working to prevent them.
It will provide problem-solving resolutions for bill disputes and serve as a neutral third party between the Department of Public Works (DPW) and customers. It’ll also provide guidance on broader rules, regulations, policies, and procedures of the Department that relate to customer issues with water and wastewater billings.
More (massive) Rate Hikes Coming.
At the same time, DPW has announced a proposal for another large water rate increase of 9 percent a year for the next three years. That's a 30% water billing increase.
By July 1, 2021, a typical household using 6 CCF (hundred cubic feet or 748 gallons) a year will pay $1,284 for water.
Under this proposal, a household living at 50 percent or below of the federal poverty level — some 22,000 water customers in the city — typical water bills would still devour at least 7 percent of their household income by next July. That is unaffordable by any metric.
DPW anticipates ongoing 9 to 10 percent rate increases through 2025.
Such daunting incoming water bill increases only make Young’s water-for-all affordability program even more important.