Review: Despite increases, WSSC water rates still ‘affordable’

WASHINGTON — Despite a decade of rate increases, water bills are not yet putting a major dent in the pocketbooks of many area residents.

An outside review found the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which provides water and sewer service to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, offers a “very high level of affordability” when compared to its counterparts nationwide, according to Myron Olstein of Juggernaut Consulting.

The latest price hike for the WSSC, which involved a 3 percent rate increase and a $6-per-quarter Infrastructure Investment Fee, went into effect this month.

Kent Nelson, who managed the review for the firm Veolia, said that while the WSSC is performing “about average” overall, it is performing “much lower than average” when it comes to customer service.

Nelson said one issue they identified is that customers calling the WSSC could be sent to either an in-house call center or to the call center of an outside contractor.

“What we found is that some of the CSRs, the customer service representatives, in the contract facility don’t necessarily know how to do everything,” he said. “So when a customer calls in, they get routed back to the WSSC, which adds to wait time.” That could also result in customers getting frustrated and hanging up. Call center wait times and customer hang-ups are two metrics consultants looked at in evaluating customer service.

The findings were presented to a Montgomery County Council committee Thursday.

WSSC Chief Financial Officer Joe Beach told county leaders action is being taken on customer service. “We’re right now in the process of reorganizing that team,” he said.

“We better be significantly above average,” said Councilmember Roger Berliner, “and customer satisfaction has long been one of the banes of this organization and it just must be addressed.”

A similar report was presented to leaders in Prince George’s County last month.

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