ROCKVILLE – County residents weighed in on proposed changes to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s rate structure during a public hearing Oct. 19.
In March, members of the Maryland Public Service Commission ruled that WSSC’s rate structure unfairly discriminated against larger households, requiring the water utility to changes its rate structure.
WSSC has held public hearings on five proposed rate structures since the PSC’s ruling in seven months ago. The PSC held a public hearing on two of the five proposed rate structures. Three of the five options would increase the bill of the average WSSC customer, which is currently $205 a quarter for 165 gallons a day of water used. Option 3B and Option 4A would lower the water/sewer bill for residential customers using 165 gallons per day.
WSSC vice chairperson T. Eloise Foster said WSSC officials scheduled the public hearings as a way for the public to give feedback on the proposed changes in the rate structures.
“It was really clear to us from these meetings that we need to do a better job of building trust with our customers,” Foster said.
Currently WSSC charges customers their highest average water usage in one of 16-tiers. A WSSC customer who uses 100 to 149 gallons of water a day is charged $10.38 per 1000 gallons, while a customer that uses 300 to 349 gallons a day is charged $15.29 for every 1000 gallons.
WSSC has released two three-tiered rate structures, two four-tiered rate structures and one uniform rate structure.
“Option A” of the three-tiered rate structure would cost $210 a quarter for using a 165 gallons per day. “Option B” would charge a customer $184 on their quarterly bill for using 165 gallons a day.
“Option A” of the four-tiered would charge WSSC customer 200 quarterly for 165 gallons per day, while “Option B” would charge customers $207 quarterly. The uniform rate structure would charge customers $248 quarterly for 165 gallons per day used.
Under WSSC’s current 16-tier rate, customers are charged a higher rate, the more water they use.
Avi Halpert, vice president of corporate real estate at United Therapeutics, a Silver Spring-based bio technology company, said WSSC’s current rate structure unfairly harms companies that use a lot of water.
“WSSC has stated that higher rates are justified as a motivation to encourage users to conserve; this rationale, however, does not hold water for some companies,” Halpert said. “We are one of those companies. The very nature of our business requires us to use large volumes of water in our manufacturing and production processes.”
Bethesda resident Richard Boltuck, whose complaint against WSSC ultimately led to the Public Service Commission ruling that WSCC must change its rate structure, said he supported WSSC adopting a uniform rate structure.
“Uniform rates end the cross-subsidies that pit one group of customers against another,” Boltuck said.
Boltuck in his complaint against WSSC had alleged WSSC’s current structure overcharged households that use a lot of water, like his.
Starting in November committees from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will review the five options for WSSC’s new rate structure and provide a recommendation to the commission. WSSC commissioners will select a new rate structure in June 2018. Depending on what is selected, WSSC anticipate the new rate structure will go into effect in July of either 2018 or 2019.