WSSC Wins Preliminary Approval From County Council for 4.5 Percent Rate Increase

Move will mark the 15th straight year the agency has raised its water and sewer rates

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Updated – 11 a.m., Tuesday – Water and sewer rates in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are set to rise again this year.

On Monday, the Montgomery County Council gave preliminary approval to a 4.5 percent rate increase requested by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission in its proposed fiscal 2019 budget.

If the budget is formally approved Thursday during a joint meeting of the councils of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, it will mark the 15th straight year of rate increases for the utility. The Prince George’s Council is expected to preliminarily approve the budget proposal Tuesday in advance of the joint meeting.

The utility provides water and sewer service to both counties.

The utility is proposing to increase its 2019 operating and capital budgets by about $11 million—from $1.43 billion in fiscal 2018 to $1.44 billion. The operating budget is expected to rise about $40.3 million, or 5.4 percent, to $741.2 million in fiscal 2019, according to council staff documents.

The utility was granted a 3.5 percent rate increase for fiscal 2018, 3 percent for fiscal 2017 and 1 percent in fiscal 2016. The following rate increases were approved from fiscal 1999 to fiscal 2015, according to council staff:

This year’s increase represented a compromise between figures proposed by Prince George’s and Montgomery, according to council member Roger Berliner. Montgomery had proposed a rate increase ceiling of 5 percent while Prince George’s proposed a ceiling of 4 percent.

“The only thing I will say is this budget year was tough,” WSSC General Manager Carla Reid told the council Monday. “We really struggled to make sure we brought a modest budget before you. We have quite a few challenges.”

She said the funding would be used to ensure the 100-year-old water and sewage system is maintained.

Berliner said the utility’s primary costs involve capital spending on projects to replace aging pipes.

A small portion of the operating budget increase—about $5.9 million—would go to salary increases for employees, who would receive a 2 percent raise and merit increases of up to 4 percent for eligible employees, according to council staff.

The utility is proposing annual 6 percent rate increases for fiscal 2020 through fiscal 2024, even though water usage is flat or declining, council staff reported. The increases are proposed to continue funding capital improvements.

Council member Craig Rice thanked Reid for meeting with his constituents in Clarksburg to help them resolve water issues. “I want to thank you for the great work you do,” Rice said.

Council member Nancy Floreen previously challenged the agency at an April 23 council committee meeting. She said the fact that the agency is a creation of state law enables it to "escape a lot of scrutiny."

"You can't just keep raising rates," Floreen said. "I do think people have got to start saying no."

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