Amid budget uncertainty in Annapolis, the Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties came together last week to set the fiscal year 2013 budgets for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC).

The two councils voted to approve a near $1.5 billion budget for the water utility company. That price tag will include a 7.5 percent rate increase that will amount to an average of $4.86 per month.

“I appreciate the spirit of cooperation between our jurisdictions and on behalf of our citizens,” Prince George’s County Council Chair Andrea Harrison, D.-Dist. 5, said in a statement. “While the newly adopted WSSC Budget includes an increase, these funds will enable the utility to better serve water and sewer customers, supporting badly needed infrastructure improvements.”

The increase is slated to go towards water and sewer reconstruction according to the WSSC. It’s specifically going to go towards the replacement of 46 miles of water main, the rehabilitation of 55 miles of sewer main and the inspection and repair of 12 miles of pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipe.

WSSC officials say these improvements are necessary and wouldn’t ask its customers to foot the bill if they weren’t.

“No one wants to see a rate increase, however, the councils have passed a budget that balances the financial impact on our customers with the overall benefit of improved operating and capital programs we believe are necessary to support quality water and sewer services now and in the future.” stated Jerry N. Johnson, General Manager/CEO. “Much of the increase is about maintaining and, where necessary, replacing our aging infrastructure so we can continue to provide dependable service for our customers.”

This budget was agreed upon while the Maryland General Assembly continued to work on an agreement on the state’s spending plan. Both counties would be severely impacted if the “doomsday” budget is passed.

Of concern to the counties is the restoration of the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI). This formula calculates the cost of living in each jurisdiction and awards funding according to need. Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore City need that funding to fill in the gaps of their school budgets.

Prince George’s County Public Schools Superintendent William Hite, Ed.D., joined CEO Andres Alonso, Ed.D., of Baltimore City Public Schools and Superintendent Joshua Starr, Ed.D., of Montgomery County Public Schools in a letter to impress upon the General Assembly the need to restore that funding.

“If we are to ensure that our students graduate from high school prepared for the workforce of the 21st century, and if we are to grow the pool of workers trained to enter the fast-emerging STEM professions in our state, then we cannot retreat on education funding,” the letter stated. “If we are to make good on our commitment to educating children equitably, regardless of their geographic location, we must maintain, and even increase, our investment in education.”

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO