‘Poor Service' Partially to Blame for Impending 5 Percent Water Rate Hikes in Philadelphia: Report

Water rates in Philadelphia are set to increase more than $3 per month beginning in July, plus an additional $6 over the next two years, and a report by the board tasked with determining the new rates blamed the increase partly on the city Water Department's "poor service."

Beginning July 1, city officials said in a news release Wednesday, the average residential customer in Philadelphia can expect to see the water bill go up by about $3.44 a month, representing a 5.1 percent increase. On July 1, 2017, rates for the typical customer will again rise about $3.18 a month, a 4.5 percent increase.

The Water Rate Board, a governing body that decided on the new rates based on a request for increases from the Philadelphia Water Department and information from a number of organizations that work around water service, released a report more than 60 pages long detailing its decision and the reasons behind it.

Among those reasons, the board blamed lost revenue for the Water Department on a decrease in customers paying their water bills caused by PWD's "inconsistent and poor intake, service access ... and collection practices."

"[The Community Lawyering Clinic] provides evidence suggesting that disconnections occur disproportionately in African-American neighborhoods. Other than a brief and general argument that the Board has no jurisdiction over customer service practices, PWD did not address the arguments concerning depression of the numbers of paying customers as a result of poor service," the report reads.

Other reasons for the hike included increased funding for greening programs such as stormwater management and retrofitting, money for personnel, maintenance expenses, chemical costs and abatements for customers who experience damage during events like water main breaks.

A report by the NBC10 Investigators found that water mains break, on average, about twice a day in Philadelphia. In the report, the Board wrote that PWD's commissioner testified that the Philadelphia system "in recent years has averaged five to seven transmission breaks a year, and overall 900 main breaks."

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