BALTIMORE – A judge from the state’s public service commission ruled the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s (WSSC) rate structure discriminates against classes of customers based on how many occupants live in a house. Chief Public Utility Law Judge Terry Romine ruled the commission’s rate structure for its budget in the fiscal year of 2016 “unreasonable” […]
BALTIMORE – A judge from the state’s public service commission ruled the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s (WSSC) rate structure discriminates against classes of customers based on how many occupants live in a house.
Chief Public Utility Law Judge Terry Romine ruled the commission’s rate structure for its budget in the fiscal year of 2016 “unreasonable” on Sept. 9, calling it “unduly discriminatory.”
Bethesda resident Richard Boltuck filed a complaint in July 2015 to the Maryland Public Service Commission regarding WSSC’s rate structure. Boltuck called the rates “unreasonable” and said the rate structure discriminates against people who share households with others.
“Those rates, the actual rate, increase the more water and sewer is used,” Boltuck said. “That may sound like a good idea, but the problem with it is that residential customers are defined by households.”
In his complaint, Boltuck explained how two people living in the same housing unit using an average of 70 gallons a day would still have to pay a rate per thousand gallons that is 14 percent higher than one person using the same average but who lives alone.
“In these situations with multi-people households, they’re going to use more water regardless of how efficient they are,” Boltuck said. “If you have three efficient people, they will use three times more water than one efficient person.”
WSSC spokesperson Jerry Irvine said the commission’s rate structure is based on consumption, not how many people live in a house.
“We don’t know how many people are in a home. All we know is how much water is running through a meter,” Irvine said.
Irvine said the structure is a 16-tier rate structure the commission uses to charge its customers by the gallon.
“Essentially, what makes our structure different is we charge you by the gallon,” Irvine said. “As you use more water, you move up in that structure and you get charged a higher per gallon rate.”
The structure was originally put in place to encourage conservation of water. Irvine said changing the rate structure may benefit certain groups of people, but may cost others more.
“When you change the rate structure, the revenue that you need to run a waste water utility doesn’t change. And when you change the structure such that you reduce it for one segment of the population, you increase it for others,” Irvine said.
In her proposed order, Judge Romine said WSSC’s rate structure seems to require greater water conservation from the customers in the first 10 tiers. She also said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support WSSC’s claim the structure incentivizes water conservation.
Boltuck pointed to how Romine said WSSC kept the structure for “administrative ease.”
“My understanding and the argument that I’ve made is that the WSSC doesn’t want to confront the political inconvenience of dealing with the fact that some of their customers would be paying more under a reformed rate structure that does not discriminate,” Boltuck said.
Irvine said it is still an ongoing case and WSSC is weighing its options for its next steps regarding Romine’s decision. He also said the commission has been conducting an evaluation of its rate structure and will continue the evaluation during the next year and a half. Irvine said it expects to have the results in 2018.
The county councils of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties are tasked with overseeing WSSC and ultimately approving the rates each year. Boltuck said he hopes they will also see the merits of his complaint.
“My hope is that the Prince George’s County Council and the Montgomery County Council educate themselves on the decision, the reasoning, the evidence and they really appreciate why the WSSC’s rates are discriminatory and unreasonable,” Boltuck said.
“I think there is no excuse for any members of the two county councils to fail to understand why WSSC’s rates are unreasonable.”