City's Billing Method for Water and Sewer Defies Common Sense

If the pipe into your building or home is 3/4" in diameter instead of 5/8" inch, you could be paying double for the same amount of water.
Dear Members of the Baltimore City Board of Estimates:

RE: “Minimum Charges” for water and sewer based on size of incoming pipe

11 April 2005-- In this time of rapidly increasing costs for basic services, it pays to examine all expenses to see where savings can be effectuated. In the case of our most recent water and sewer bill, I noticed our water consumption is listed as “Minimum,” with only 700 cubic feet of water consumed at our office over a three-month period. Yet the cost for this water is $30.28, and then—based on this cost, with a multiplier applied—the sewer cost is an additional $40.70. (There’s the $1.50 Bay Restoration Fee as well.) Total: $72.48. This seems way too high.

Today I discussed this with two city employees in the Application Department and learned that, though our rate of consumption is minimal, we are being billed a “Minimum Charge” based on the fact that the water pipe leading into our building (built over 100 years ago) is 3/4” in diameter, meaning we have a “#1 Meter.” We could more than double our water consumption, up to 1800 cubic feet in a quarter, and pay no more than we’re paying now. If the water pipe were 5/8” in diameter, we’d have a “#2 Meter,” and our minimum charge would be half what it is now, for up to 1000 cubic feet of water. I was given a number to call to arrange for the smaller meter, which would cost $80 for the City to install.

This whole thing does not make sense! I realize that—back in the mists of time—the Board of Estimates decreed that prices would be set this way. But, especially given the major increases in Baltimore City costs for water and sewer, with another substantial increase due next quarter, one would think someone somewhere in the City government would think: “Let’s encourage folks to consume less water by billing for actual usage.” And someone would think, “The way we’re billing for water consumption now penalizes citizens who, through no fault of their own, have the ‘misfortune’ of having a 3/4” water pipe coming into their building—causing them to have to pay about $40 extra each quarter (about $160 extra per year) though their water consumption is the same as it would have been with a 5/8” pipe.”

This situation deserves immediate review and correction. Citizens should be billed fairly for what they consume. They should not be paying so much extra for this essential service. Failure to correct this would indicate that city officials: (1) Do not care that citizens are being billed double for no additional benefit to them; (2)Water conservation is not important to city officials (because, after all, folks being billed so much extra might as well double their consumption, since they’re paying for it anyway); (3) In actuality the existing billing method is a substantial “hidden tax” on those who have 3/4” pipes coming to their buildings, and city officials have no problem with that—though it is an extraordinarily regressive hidden tax.

Please let me know what you will do to rectify this situation.


Alice Cherbonnier
Managing Editor, Baltimore Chronicle

Copyright © 2005 The Baltimore Chronicle. All rights reserved.

Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on April 12, 2005.