WSSC Considers New Rate Structures After Discrimination Ruling

WSSC Considers New Rate Structures After Discrimination Ruling

Maryland Public Service Commission ruled the water and sewer utility discriminates against larger households

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The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission is considering options to alter its 25-year-old rate structure now that the state’s Public Service Commission has ordered the water and sewer utility to change its pricing system after finding that it was discriminating against high-volume users.

The utility’s current pricing system uses a tiered structure that bills customers for each gallon based on the highest tier of usage that customers reach. Customers that use more water end up in higher price brackets and are charged at the higher rate, even if their usage is only a couple gallons over the threshold for the higher tier.

This can result in big price jumps for customers, according to the PSC.

Last week’s finding by the state utility regulator came after Bethesda resident Richard Boltuck filed a complaint with the PSC against WSSC after determining that higher-volume users were paying an unfair share based on the amount of water used by each tier class.

During a joint meeting of the transportation, energy and environment committees of the councils of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties on Thursday, WSSC officials presented seven rate structures the utility was considering to replace its 16-tier rate structure.

Nearly all the options would place higher rates on low-volume, largely residential customers in the two counties to fix the discrepancy caused by the current rate structure.

Each option was designed to generate about $700 million in annual revenue for WSSC to pay for  operations and other costs. The options range from a uniform charge of $13.06 per 1,000 gallons used that would be easy for customers to understand, but cost residential customers significantly more, to an eight-tier system that would limit rate increases for residential customers and put the higher cost burden on customers who use large volumes of water.

Officials for the utility are currently analyzing the proposed options and plan to deliver a comprehensive report to a bi-county working group at the end of the month. After that, the utility plans to hold three public hearings in May to explain the changes to the public and accept feedback. In July, county elected officials would review and possibly approve the WSSC’s recommended rate structure, which WSSC expects to implement in July 2018.

County Council members from both counties at  Thursday’s meeting pushed back against that timeline, saying their constituents would need more time to understand the pricing shift.

“We’re not going to move this forward without our community having every opportunity to weigh in with respect to this,” Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said. “This is tough stuff. When you start shifting payments from one group to another group of customers, we’re going to hear about it.”

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