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Council Proposes Income-Based Water Billing Amid Rate Hikes

DHARNA NOOR: Here at Baltimore City Hall for
The Real News Network, I’m Dharna Noor. Council President Jack Young has just introduced
income-based water billing for the city of Baltimore, in a city where advocates and councilmembers
say that the water affordability crisis is out of control. Water bills have tripled over the last decade
in Baltimore. Just before Monday’s council meeting, advocates
gathered to support legislation they say will promote equity in the face of rate hikes. RIANNA ECKEL: The Water Accountability and
Equity Act is the comprehensive, forward-thinking legislation that we need to ensure that everyone
in our city has access to water. DHARNA NOOR: The Water Accountability and
Equity Act was sponsored by City Council President Jack Young, and cosponsored by every member
of the Council. If passed, it will establish a water affordability
program based on customers’ level of income. It would also create an office to hear grievances
and appeals from customers. RIANNA ECKEL: It will reform the way our water
billing system works, and ensure that more revenue is collected for the Department of
Public Works to carry out their critical job of maintaining our infrastructure, while still
protecting our customers. DHARNA NOOR: The legislation caps customers’
water bills based on their income level. It uses a formula that takes into account
both household water use and household income relative to the federal poverty threshold. MARY PAT CLARKE: Basically, they would get
reductions in the, in the monthly fee they pay, based on their income so that they would
be able to reduce the share of monthly income that water now overtakes. DHARNA NOOR: For instance, if you make 50
percent of the poverty limit, your bill would be capped at 1 percent of your income. If you make 100 to 200 percent of the poverty
level, your bill would be capped at 3 percent of your income. ZAFAR SHAH: Basically, tenants just need to
show up, provide a copy of their lease, provide their financial information, in order to get
a credit which would then be disbursed to them either once a month or at the end of
the year. DHARNA NOOR: Food and Water Watch and members
of the Right to Water Coalition have been pushing the Council to introduce this legislation
for years. Last December, President Young told The Real
News it would be introduced in January 2018. JACK YOUNG: The bill should be coming out
in January at our next Council meeting. DHARNA NOOR: But the advocates say in the
past year they’ve created a more robust piece of legislation. MARY GRANT: I think the delay occurred because
there were some conversations that DPW tried to work with on and move them along, and try
to work out a compromise. I think that now is the right time to have
it done, because DPW just announced another 30 percent rate increase. So now is the moment we really need to be
proactive in making sure our water service is affordable and accountable, and that people
have really due process under the law to dispute bills. DHARNA NOOR: This proposal comes just days
after Baltimore’s Department of Public Works, or DPW, proposed three annual rate hikes of
approximately 9 percent starting in July 2019. DPW also announced a new assistance program. MARY GRANT: DPW has proposed a discount program. It’s just more of the same. They’re expanding their existing senior discount
to all low-income customers. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just not enough. We really need to make water service affordable
for each household. So we need to look at each household and adjust
bills down to a level that each household can afford to pay based on their income. And their current dispute process, it doesn’t
really allow people to have a thorough follow up. It’s not consistent. It’s not consistently applied. There are no real timelines for people to
get their disputes resolved. ZAFAR SHAH: The, sort of, senior discount
program, those are discretionary. They’re not legal, they’re not set in stone. And they don’t provide a tenant with the rights–if
someone is in a discount program, it still doesn’t stop a landlord from evicting them
based on unpaid water bills. DHARNA NOOR: DPW says rate hikes are necessary
to raise funds for infrastructure repairs. Baltimore is required under federal consent
decree to repair its 100-year-old water and sewage system. But Young and supporters say that creating
a new system where residents can actually afford to pay their water bills could actually
drive a revenue increase. JACK YOUNG: While this proposal makes sense
on a basic human level, it also makes sense from a financial standpoint. The common misconception is that poor people
don’t want to pay their bills. This is terrible slander and totally false. People pay bills that they can afford. I say to the middle class homeowner, let me
quadruple your mortgage by raising the interest rate by double digit points year after year,
and we’ll see if that doesn’t cause you to miss a few payments. DHARNA NOOR: We reached out to DPW for response,
and they said: “We look forward to working with President Young and the councilmembers. Our Baltimore H2O Assist program is fiscally
and socially responsible, offering meaningful discounts to those in need.” In November, Baltimore became the first major
city in America to ban water privatization, and the advocates say this new bill is the
next step to ensure water affordability. MARY GRANT: We know privatization would only
exacerbate the affordability crisis that’s so widely felt in our community. Private companies, they’re not charities. They’re not going to offer us large sums of
money for free. They’ll want to make a profit on that. In Baltimore we just can’t afford it. And so banning water privatization was the
right move. And the Council President is acting on that,
and he’s taking up the mantle that we gave to him to really lead our community and make
sure that we have safe and affordable water that is accessible across our community. DHARNA NOOR: The bill is expected to pass
through City Council, and then head to the Mayor’s office for final approval. MARY PAT CLARKE: We were at lunch with her,
and she seemed more than willing to discuss, and get involved, and … We gotta do this. We gotta do this. DHARNA NOOR: For The Real News, Dharna Noor
in Baltimore.

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28 thoughts on “Council Proposes Income-Based Water Billing Amid Rate Hikes

  1. What a #humanrightsviolation! Why should anyone have to pay to live on this planet? Sounds like greed over need to me!

  2. Water across the world flows God has given for free no man or companies have a right to charge for what God has given for free. These greedy globalist will pay for the crime they commit against humanity God sees their greed and power grab and he will repay for all they do.

  3. Hey those in MD–if you think having to show up and have some government loafer review your income just to have access to water, you are not acting like an American, but one under a Soviet rule.

  4. It’s a tax on the middle class. Baltimore’s gross mismanagement of city funds spent on poverty pimp programs left nothing for the upkeep of infrastructure. They should start cutting social programs n repair roads, sewers, gas pipelines. Once again the middle class workers will pay more.. those that don’t work won’t. What incentive is there to improve your station in life? Why work anymore.. live off other people’s money.. till the working middle class is destroyed. Progressive Socialism 101.

  5. First they pollute the water source so you need a service to make it potable. Then they charge you for the service. Whomever ruined the water supply should flip the bill. The one thing that should have been treated like a Godsend should have been water.

  6. This is actually more brilliant (and productive) than even the Council understands. Why? Simple. "They" want "the people" (poor) to pay more for the water (and things they have)? Then make DAMN sure they can afford to. Yes, it's that simple, and this will force – even "them" – to understand this. This council has unwittingly set in motion a mechanism that can ONLY ultimately lead to exactly BOTH things happening: a) water costs more to more of the people, and b) more of the people can and will be able to afford it.
    You have the formula, Bernie. Now fucking do it across America.

  7. Shifting the cost of water to the middle class is unfair. They like to pretend that the "rich" will be paying the bill but in truth it the middle class. A lot of middle class families are having a hard time, too. Bigger water bills will put more stress on the family budget.

    Water bills can be lowered by adjusting the amount of water you use- shorter showers, turning off the water while you brush your teeth and only doing full loads of laundry. Water use can be dramatically reduced to make the bills affordable.

  8. You do realize their water is poison and medicated. You aren't allowed to save your own rain water, cities are making that criminal.

  9. Damn, you have to give all that information for a fucking water bill? When did water change and get more expensive? Oh, the greedy corporations WANT MORE money despite giving Nestle and other companies access to fresh water for a minuscule cost that they don't even pay every year. Nestle in Michigan had a lapsed access to a fresh water aquifer for 10 years! So if the city/state owns the water then why is it getting expensive? Let's find the fucking leak first.

  10. The folks who should pay the piper for excessive water use are the upper middle class and rich with their lush green grass and big houses, businesses, and corporations, not the middle class and workin poor. Stop subsidizing businesses and rich folk off the backs of the working class.

  11. We need Gas, Electric and Internet bills tied to household income also, all that shit is going up multiple times a year now its disgraceful. Monopoly Capitalism lol. Take it all back into Public Ownership, its the only real solution.

  12. Was going to say 'Bet water supply is privatised' but I see someone has answered the question even before it was asked. 'Going to be dispursed to them…' so they have to pay first and wait to be reimbursed?

  13. Estimate the property on average use ,if property uses more then extra tariff on over use applies,meter all properties and this would work.

  14. Good thing is that these psychopaths are letting us know who they are. We know what to do, ex parte common law trials and execution squads

  15. Bad idea. Why doesn't flat billing work? Maybe because its not flat billing. The city is in a lot of debt and it is squeezing the citizenry, but letting big corporations default without sanction.

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