Sewer Rates Need to be Rationalized

For most people sewer, water and stormwater are all on the same bill.  For some communities like Reading do the sewer billing based on information from MSD/GCWW.

Sewer rates are based on surrogate data because how much you discharge to the sewer system is not actually measured. The surrogate data includes the size of your water meter and how much water you use. Other factors apply, like whether or not you get billed for summer lawn watering, since in theory it doesn’t go into the sewer. The minimum charge includes some water use – whether you use it all or not.

2015 MSD Rate ScheduleMonthly customers get billed for a higher total cost than quarterly users.  MSD says this is due to the difference in the amount of water use included in the minimum charge, for administrative costs, fees for pipe maintenance to reduce inflow/infiltration of stormwater.

Looking at that for a moment, a family in a single-family household using the amount of water included in the minimum charge or less, pays $469.40 if they pay quarterly. If that same family, same water use and everything, switched to monthly billing they’d pay $685.32.  That’s $215.92 more per year. Now this is the same family, same house.  Pipe maintenance costs aren’t changing due to changing the billing.   Billing could hardly cost $215.92 cents more per year!

Some people don’t use the minimum amount of water included in the monthly bill– they subsidize the sewer bills of those who use more water.

Also, the more water you use, the lower your cost per hundred cubic feet.  Again, subsidizes for heavy users of water by people who use less and perhaps conserve by watering from rain barrels, using rain gardens and/or low-flow shower heads.  This primarily benefits industrial and water-using commercial businesses. The average resident customer never gets near this cost saving break.

Also, if the same family move into a duplex and went back to paying quarterly, they’d pay only $302.64 per year.   If they moved into a large complex, of 50 units, they’d pay a mere $102.52 per year!

From an income perspective, USEPA considers sewer bills to be a financial stressor if they exceed 2% of the area’s Median Household Income.   If a single-family household earned $41,000 per year, the average single family household’s sewer bill went over that in 2014.

For low to middle income families the sewer bills are getting to be as bad as the price of gas.

Please feel free to comment on the following questions:

  • Should the monthly customer penalty be removed, or at least reduced?
  • Should the County Commissioners stick with the water meter, water use, minimum charge structure? Or try to reform it?
  • Should one criterion be an easy-to-understand bill?
  • Should the minimum be set to a uniform minimum charge for all residential households and be set closer to $20 or $25?
  • This would require increasing the water use charge?  Will this have an adverse impact on some users?
  • Should there be an income base to the rate structure? For all residential households? Or just low-to-middle income ones?
  • Should there be a conservation incentive, i.e. the more water you use the higher rate you pay?
  • Incentives for green infrastructure?
  • A significant amount of water comes from street runoff into the combined system. Should there be a stormwater transportation charge and how should it be paid?
  • How should industrial and commercial charges change?
  • Which options seem the most likely to be acceptable to decision makers? To the rate-payers?

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