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Fresh Water, Foul Sewage

by Ian Round5:15 pmJun 22, 20200

Young seeks to punt water affordability law to the next mayor

The City Council is asked to delay implementation of the Water Accountability and Equity Act until mid-2021

Above: Activists rally in front of City Hall for the water affordability bill last year. (Lizzie Kane)

Three weeks before the deadline to establish a percent-of-income water billing system for poor Baltimoreans, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young is asking the City Council for an extension until after he leaves office.

The current deadline to implement the Water Accountability and Equity Act, which Young introduced when he was City Council president, is July 13.

Young now wants to give the Department of Public Works a full year, until July 1, 2021, to implement the law.

That would place responsibility on Brandon Scott, who defeated Young in the Democratic primary and is expected to win the general election in November and become mayor.

The measure codifies what DPW acknowledged back in April – it wouldn’t meet a deadline to provide water bill relief just as the Covid-19 pandemic was threatening people’s health and personal finances.

Young is “dedicated to reform” and “dedicated to updating systems,” says his spokesman.

Lester Davis, Young’s spokesman, today said that DPW needs time to put certain “system changes” in place. Baltimore County has also raised concerns about how its water customers would be affected by the new law.

According to Davis, the mayor is “dedicated to reform” and “dedicated to updating systems,” noting that the latter “is difficult and can be frustrating.”

He directed questions about the details of the systems update to acting DPW Director Matthew Garbark, who did not respond to a request for comment.

“Never a good-faith partner”

Advocates for water affordability weren’t buying the mayor’s explanation.

“This is clearly the Young administration saying, ‘We do not want to deal with this,’” said Rianna Eckel of Food & Water Watch, one of many groups that championed the affordability bill for several years and finally won passage last October.

Water affordability bill, popular with mayoral candidates, advances (10/29/19)

Eckel said her organization has offered DPW resources and advice on how to implement the affordability law, but the agency has not taken advantage of any of their suggestions.

“DPW has never acted as a good faith partner and has never done their share of the work. [They’ve] never proposed any alternatives and never proposed any solutions,” she told The Brew this afternoon.

At a City Council committee hearing in April, Garbark said the department had missed a preliminary deadline and asked for an extension on the final one.

Back then, Council President Scott did not seem eager to grant the extension. In an emailed statement to The Brew today, Scott said the following:

“The need for relief from high and unaccountable water bills is more urgent than ever. This City Council fought hard to pass the Water Accountability and Equity Act into law, and we will be talking to the Department, the Right to Water Coalition, and Council members as we assess the administration’s request.”

Scott assigned the mayor’s request (Bill 20-0546) to the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee at tonight’s Council meeting.

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