ROCKVILLE — Rockville residents weighed in on City Manager Robert DiSpirito’s budget proposal at Monday’s Mayor and City Council session, using first of two public hearings before the City Council takes up their own budget to air grievances about suggested increases to the city’s water and sewer rates.
The matter of most concern to those residents who testified was against a proposed 9.7 percent increase to the City’s ready-to-serve charge, a significant increase meant to help funnel revenue back into the Rockville’s sinking sewer fund.
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Some older residents complained that they could not afford an increase to the city’s water and sewer rates. Roberta Hinitz, a senior resident living in a moderately-priced housing unit, said another rate increase to the City’s utilities is something low-income people like her cannot afford.
“I came here intending only to say that I am so afraid of a possible decision as part of the 2019 budget to raise those rates even further,” Hinitz said
Fellow senior Joseph Chang echoed Hinitz’s sentiments about the rate increase for utilities being unaffordable for seniors and others.
“Housing and utility expenses for seniors are very, very high and affordable housing is very limited,” Chang said.
DiSpirito proposed a significant increase to the City’s water and sewer rates when he released his budget Feb. 26 saying the City needed to increase the rates in order to continue to make needed investments in water infrastructure.
The rate increase are meant to help add additional revenue to the City’s sewer fund, which has been losing money over the last few years, which provides service to about 70 percent of city residents. The ready-to-serve charge is set to increase by 9.7 percent, while the average increase will be about 6.3 percent for city residents who use 15,000 gallons of water a year.
The City began changing its rate structure for water and sewer for fiscal year 2015 by coming up with a three-year plan to increase revenue. But even after three years on the plan, the City’s sewer fund is still losing money according to DiSpirito’s budget, and another round of rate increase is needed.
While DiSpirito’s budget does not propose a tax increase to either property or income tax, the proposed water and sewer rates will hit some residents hard.
“Staff is well aware of the impact of increasing the City’s utility rates on our customers,” DiSpirito said. “Balancing the financing of our utilities with the capital investment needed while keeping rates as low as possible over time is challenging.”