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WSSC Wants To Change Rate Structure

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 8/4/2014, 3:00pm  ET

WSSC logo, via WSSCThe utility that provides water and sewage service in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties says it needs a more predictable billing system to pay for mounting infrastructure costs.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission wants to change the way its charges water customers by raising the cost of a 24-year-old fee and fixing another fee based on the meter size of each customer, not the amount of gallons of water each customer uses per billing period.

The WSSC announced the planned changes on Monday in a press release that included news of a public meeting on Wednesday in Rockville.

Those who wish to speak at the meeting — set for 7:30 p.m. in the Montgomery County Council’s 7th Floor Hearing Room (100 Maryland Ave., Rockville) — can contact WSSC’s Budget Group at 301-206-8110 or submit a written statement to BudgetGroup@wsscwater.com.

WSSC said customers “shouldn’t assume the changes will lead to higher bills,” though it didn’t say how much it hoped to increase the Account Maintenance Fee, an existing quarterly charge of $11 for residential accounts that hasn’t been increased since it was created in 1990.

The changes would also include a “fixed, infrastructure-reconstruction fee.” That means customers would be charged based on the size of their meter. Smaller, residential meters on homes would be charged less than larger, industrial sized meters at commercial properties, for instance.

In its press release, WSSC this would provide for “a more modern, equitable and predictable approach to gathering revenue.”

The utility has a network of almost 5,600 miles of freshwater pipeline and more than 5,400 miles of sewer pipeline with 1.8 million resident customers in the Maryland suburbs of D.C. Much of the WSSC’s water pipe infrastructure is aging and requires replacement.

“With these fees in place, WSSC would have a more predictable and reliable revenue base, with the intended result of lowering the size of rate increases going forward,” read the press release.

WSSC’s billing process has come under scrutiny in Bethesda, where Councilmember Roger Berliner and a county consumer agency have called into question recent bills that were hundreds and even thousands of dollars higher than normal for about 60 local residents.

The county’s Office of Consumer Protection bemoaned the lack of independent review in WSSC billing disputes. WSSC claimed that some customers might have received higher than usual bills this year because of the rougher than usual winter, which in some cases meant longer billing cycles.

In the press release, WSSC General Manager Jerry Johnson said water utilities across the county were facing “the quandary” of more customers heeding calls for water conservation.

“…95 percent of our revenues come directly from ratepayers,” Johnson said. “The decreased demand for water means WSSC has less money for maintenance and upgrades of its aging system.”

The changes, if approved in WSSC’s budget process, would go into effect in July 2015.