(Photo by Flickr user Argonne National Laboratory, used under a Creative Commons license)
Baltimore has a new policy on water bills: If you don’t pay, your water will be shut off. And city officials put the threat in writing Friday to customers in Baltimore City and County.
The city sent out 23,000 notices warning customers that they have 10 days to pay their bills. It’s sending out notices to houses that have more than $250 in unpaid bills, and two billing cycles past due.
The outstanding bills represent about $40 million in uncollected money.
“Commercial properties, multiple-unit properties, and government properties are all subject to turnoffs, as well as residential properties, for customers in the City and in Baltimore County,” a statement said.
The city’s power move comes as officials are racing to complete a project to install “smart meters” on houses and businesses. The idea behind that project is to make water bill estimates more accurate for a service that has frequently been found to over-bill customers, and send them the wrong bills.
Two days before the shut-off notices went out, the Board of Estimates agreed to pay an extra $13 million to complete the smart meter project. According to the Baltimore Sun’s Luke Broadwater, the lowest bid on the project had to be thrown out because Wite-Out was used to make changes to the forms. Cost to taxpayers: $1.5 million.
The shut-off policy isn’t unique to Baltimore.
Detroit officials drew ire from the United Nations with mass shut-offs last fall. As the number of people without water grew to reach 27,000, it became obvious that many of the people who were facing shut-offs were revealed to be the city’s poor. The city, in turn, was found to have increased water bills in an effort to pass on the costs to consumers.
As we reported last month, the Motor City situation lead to the creation of the Detroit Water Project, which allows people to donate anonymously to help people in Detroit pay their water bills. The nonprofit’s executive director, Tiffani Ashley Bell, recently launched a similar version in Baltimore. Check out the Baltimore Water Project to learn more about that project.
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