MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp, alongside Bill Jorch representing the Maryland Municipal League; Jim DiPietro, Deputy Director, Bureau of Utility Operations, Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works; and Steve Gerwin, Chief, Bureau of Utilities, Howard County Department of Public Works testified in opposition to House Bill 228, Environment – Water Service – Shutoff Notice Disclosures and Vulnerable Population Protection, before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 15, 2017.
This bill requires water and wastewater system providers to follow a strict and rigorous process before shutting off services for nonpayment, rendering that enforcement unusable in many cases. In addition, it explicitly prevents a provider from shutting off service in a wide range of situations.
MACo advocates that by reducing the consequences for nonpayment, those costs simply get reassigned to others. This may be to those who pay their water bills on time (through higher base rates), or to the general taxpayer base (through higher property taxes). In general, local matters should remain in local hands. The county and municipal officials elected by and accountable to their own communities are in the best position to judge these needs, and to balance these issues of fairness. With this bill, MACo urges state policymakers to refrain from statewide intrusion — both out of respect for local autonomy, but also to avoid creating fundamental new unfairness in local revenue systems.
From MACo testimony:
The ability to discontinue a resident’s water or sewer service, or the potential of discontinuing the service, presents a much-needed device to ensure water users remit payment for their fair share of fees and charges connected to public services. HB 228 removes this leverage and undoubtedly would create many more deficient accounts for water and sewer bills from lack of enforcement – leading to increased rates on citizens who properly pay.
Members of the Committee asked a number of questions concerning existing water shut-off processes across the state, whether tenants can or should be held responsible or have access to information concerning bills for their homes, and whether the bill actually accomplishes its proposed intent, which is only to make those users responsible for paying for water if “they can actually pay.”
Video of hearing: at 1:13:00