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WSSC Infrastructure Tax Letter

This is a contributed blog post.

July 6, 2016

Thomas V. Miller, Jr., President, Maryland Senate

Michael Busch, Speaker, Maryland House of Delegates

100 State Circle

Annapolis, Maryland 21401-1925

Dear President Miller and Speaker Busch:

We, the members of the Customer Advisory Board (CAB), are writing to advocate for the adoption of an “Infrastructure Tax.”

The WSSC CAB is responsible for representing the interests of WSSC rate-payers to WSSC Commissioners and the WSSC General Manager. WSSC’s top priority should be to reliably deliver water and sewer services to WSSC rate-payers at a fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory rate.

The enormous backlog of maintenance work on WSSC’s pipe and facility infrastructure present a challenge to the ability of the water and sewer utility to reliably deliver it services to rate-payers. At the present rate, it will take 100 years[1] to address the entire backlog of work that must be done WSSC’s infrastructure. To accommodate the increasing demands presented by an aging[2] water and sewer delivery system, WSSC requires an increase in revenues.

WSSC is a self-funded, budget-neutral entity that raises its revenues entirely from the rate-payers it serves. WSSC finds itself continually facing the budgetary challenges presented both by water successful conservation efforts that have decreased rate-payer contributions to a largely fixed-cost system and by growing populations that have required an expansion of the utility’s capabilities.

Due to evolving rate-payer use patterns, WSSC has begun to rely on fixed fee assessments on every rate-payer regardless of use. This amounts to an effectively regressive[3] tax that disproportionately places a burden on those who are least able to afford these fees. WSSC does maintain a funding mechanism to provide emergency relief to the most needy families in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, but this support provides inadequate relief to our entire population of needy families.

WSSC’s infrastructure requires greater investment that is beyond the utility’s current means. Rate-payers, who are also taxpayers, are increasingly frustrated by obfuscated fees that are regressive in nature. We view water and sewer service as a public utility that benefits all, without which none in our society can function.

The WSSC CAB would like to propose that the Maryland General Assembly consider adopting a statewide, dedicated, and progressive payroll “Infrastructure Tax.” Such an Infrastructure Tax would place the greatest burden on those most able to afford the cost of improving our infrastructure while providing a steady annual dedicated revenue stream that could be made available for capital infusions into public utilities including but not limited to water, sewer, electric, communications, and transportation infrastructure.

We strongly urge you to consider initiating discussion on the urgent need for maintaining our crumbling infrastructure in the 2017 Legislative Session.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

Vince Berg, Chair, WSSC CAB

Jordan Cooper, WSSC Stakeholder Representative

John Lee, WSSC Stakeholder Representative

CC:

Nancy Floreen, President, Montgomery County Council

Derrick Davis, Chair, Prince George’s County Council

Fausto Bayonet, Chair, WSSC Commission

Carla Reid, General Manager, WSSC

[1] WSSC maintains 5,600 miles of water lines and currently replaces these lines at a rate of 55 miles per year at a cost of $1.5 million per mile. It would take just shy of 102 years at this rate to replace all of these lines, which doesn’t account for line expansion and stress due to population growth that further exacerbates this issue.

[2] Some WSSC pipes have been in continuous usage for 98 years, and the system has grown to serve 1.8 million people. Rate-payers currently experience interruption of water service due to 1,819 water main breaks last year alone, while 700-1,100 homes each year experience home sewer backups that lead to costly clean up and unsuitable living conditions.

[3] Due to pipe leakage, WSSC experiences a 17-19% loss rate for potable water between water treatment plants and the rate-payer’s faucet (in addition to surface and storm water infiltration into the system which adds additional costs), which is almost double the national loss rate and which is subsidized by increased rates charged to all WSSC customers.

This was originally posted in Revealing Our Humanity.

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Jordan Cooper

About Jordan Cooper

Jordan Cooper, president of Revealing Our Humanity Communications, has been consistently engaged in public service for the past 16 years and has spent eight of those years being actively engaged in Maryland politics. Jordan is the host of Public Interest Podcast. He has worked on Health IT and Health Information Exchange implementing Obamacare for the District of Columbia’s Department of Health Care Finance. He ran as a Democratic Candidate for Delegate in the 2014 election cycle. He served as the President of the Luxmanor Citizens Association (2013-2014) and as the Chair of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission Customer Advisory Board. He currently serves on the Western Montgomery County Citizens Advisory Board, the White Flint Downtown Advisory Committee, and the Rockville Selective Service Board. He is an Area Coordinator in District 16 for the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee and is a member of the District 16 Democratic Board. Jordan has a master's degree in health policy from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a bachelor's degree in political science from Vassar College. Jordan was born and raised in Bethesda, Maryland.

Comments

2 Responses to “WSSC Infrastructure Tax Letter”

  1. On March 31, 2017 at 12:35 pm responded with... #

    A statewide infrastructure tax is a disturbing piece of legislation if its only purpose is to fund WSSC repairs. Would such a tax be part of a statewide fund available to all Maryland jurisdictions. Would a deteriorating bridge in Oakland in Easton have access to funds? How do you judge priority and timing of release of money for repairs or replacement? How do you hold anyone accountable? I agree that there should be funding for WSSC repairs, but a state slush fund is not the right way to get it!
    Doesn’t it make more sense to retain the user fees and try to expand help programs. If you clearly identify income levels/family size criteria on our bills, wouldn’t eligible households declare that they need not pay the user fees? As a WSSC user, I support an infrastructure fee but in this high cost of living area, fees need to be sensitive to families and not be regressive.

    • Jordan Cooper
      On March 31, 2017 at 7:32 pm responded with... #

      The idea for the statewide fund is not a politically realistic proposal. It was meant as a means of initiating a conversation about the need to appropriate necessary funds for investment in our infrastructure projects. The letter cites a shared desire to avoid a regressive tax, which you mention as being of concern to you, and therefore offers an addendum to the state income tax (which is a progressive tax). Additionally the letter outlines a vision for a fund that would rotate on an annual basis among various infrastructure projects around the state. At no point in the letter is there a suggestion that a slush fund be created to fund WSSC repairs. The concept is that one year it may be water and sewer around the state, the next it could be highways, the next electric utilities, then mass transit, then broadband and wifi internet, and back to water and sewer, highways, etc ad infinitum.

      In sum, I appreciate your interest in the topic I posted upon and the time and energy that you invested in commenting on the post. Should you wish to continue this conversation please feel free to email me directly at contact@rohcommunication.com.




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