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By J. K. Schmid
Special to the AFRO

The Mayor’s office announced the completion of a review of Baltimore City’s and Baltimore County’s water and sewer business and processes, Aug. 16.

The overall tone and finding of the study could be summarized as “good, with much room for improvement.”

“Fixing the issues that have plagued our water system for decades is a priority for my administration, our residents and our water customers,” Mayor Brandon Scott said in a press release. “This comprehensive review is a critical first step in fixing the system once and for all. Transforming our water and sewer system into one that works for all residents and customers is attainable, and now we have a blueprint to guide our efforts.”

Baltimore City enjoys a rich abundance of clean water. The city services approximately 1.8 million consumers in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and parts of Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard Counties.

The review estimates the city treats 72 billion gallons of water annually.

Concerns and issues raised in the report include Baltimore City and County’s lack of a drought response plan and long-term planning for water loss reduction.

Of particular interest to the AFRO are the vast deficiencies on the consumer and service side.

Said deficiencies include mounting backlogs of work orders and unrepaired meters in the neighboring counties; vanishing expertise and knowledge on how to legally and financially secure annual water settlements; city and county billing process systems are not mutually supported; conflicting city and county billing dispute processes; escalations for service in the county are increasingly backlogged and bill adjustments are poorly documented.

It is not surprising that the review also found that neither the city nor county are collecting or reviewing customer service experience or satisfaction.

Further, there is complete negligence and very little customer support when trying to reach someone over the phone. For example, the phone number for county water meter issues directs you to the City Hall operator.

Much of this disconnect between administration and result can be attributed to the ongoing and dramatic shift in population from Baltimore City to Baltimore County, and 1945 laws that demanded that the city support the county with water.

In 1945, curiously in sync with the emerging U.S. phenomenon of White Flight, the city population was approximately 900,000 and the County population was just over 200,000. Now, 75 years later in 2020, the population of the city is just under 600,000 and declining, while the County population is 827,000 and rising.

“No one could have anticipated the demographic shifts that would occur over the following 75 years,” the report said..

The 308-page study can be found here.

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