Rate increase included in WSSC’s $1.5 billion 2021 budget

Lawmakers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have approved the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s nearly $1.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2021, which will include an average 6% rate hike for customers.

The WSSC budget was approved by the Montgomery County and Prince George’s County councils in a virtual meeting Thursday. WSSC said the budget will allow the commission to upgrade some of the aging infrastructure across both counties, and account for a projected $148 million loss in revenue during the current fiscal year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The commission also said it will ultimately make water and sewer bills more affordable, despite next year’s increase. One of the ways it says it’s doing so is by identifying potential leaks and other plumbing issues through technology called Advanced Metering Infrastructure, which is currently in the planning phase. The new infrastructure will ultimately lead to reduced bills, according to the utility.

“WSSC Water is on the front lines of this global health crisis and this budget invests in crucial projects to protect public health by ensuring we continue to fulfill our clean-water mission,” said WSSC Water General Manager and CEO Carla A. Reid in a statement.

“We’ve also increased funding to enhance our financial assistance programs and advance an innovative project designed to save our customers money,” she said. “I thank both county councils for their commitment to public health and water affordability in approving this budget.”

The proposed 6% increase equates to a quarterly bill increase of $11.38 for a family of three using 55 gallons of water per person, per day, according to WSSC. The utility said the increase is below the limits set by both county councils.

Project highlights of the budget include:

  • $72.5 million to replace approximately 25 miles of small diameter water mains and invest in new technologies to better detect leaking pipes.
  • $55.5 million to replace approximately 20 miles of small diameter sewer mains partially funded by state grants from the Bay Restoration Fund.
  • $58.1 million to replace large diameter water mains and valves.
  • $69.5 million to replace large diameter sewer mains.
  • $61.3 million to construct the Piscataway Bioenergy Project using low-interest loans from the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Water Quality Financing Administration.
  • $24.1 million to continue planned upgrades to the Potomac and Patuxent water filtration plants.
  • $7.6 million to continue upgrades to more energy efficient equipment and systems.

WSSC said the budget also includes $3.2 million to help customers struggling to pay their water and sewer bills, and will suspend all water service shutoffs and waiving late fees during the pandemic. WSSC has information about its assistance programs online.

The utility serves about 1.8 million residents throughout Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

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