Philly water rate hike plans draw scrutiny from City Council

The proposed rate hike will cost the average resident $15 more a month over the next three years.

running water in a kitchen sink.

(Danya Henninger/Billy Penn)

The Philadelphia Water Department presented its need for a major rate hike to pay for expenses. City Council members listened to their plea Monday morning with a dry eye.

Water Commissioner Randy Hayman told Council’s Committee on Transportation and Public Utilities that rate hikes are necessary to cover rising costs.

“For instance, the cost per ton for chemicals used in water treatment has risen in fiscal year 2023, as much as 142% above fiscal year 2022 levels,” Hayman said. “Chemical costs are beyond our control.”

“Additional revenues are needed to ensure that clean water is delivered as safely and reliably as possible, and that wastewater treatment and stormwater management services meet our community’s needs.”

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Under the proposed rate hike, the average customer would receive an 11% increase beginning in July of this year, and 8% next year. That would increase the average bill from just over $69 a month to about $84 a month over the next three years.”

Community Legal Services attorney Robert Ballenger called on the department to rethink the price hike.

“Unaffordability of water service disproportionately burdens Black and brown people in Philadelphia and across the country due to systemic racism that leads to both poverty and neglect of communities of color,” he said.

He urged PWD to find ways to cut costs, such as using water to generate the power necessary to run the plants as they are already doing in a pilot program.

“The facts are undeniable. The water department has sought to raise rates before it has taken available steps to lower its costs and increase its revenues,” said former Philadelphia consumer advocate Lance Haver. He said the water department should combine meter readings and other operations with the city-owned gas works as a way to save money.

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“For the water department, the path of least resistance — with the help of the rate board’s advocate — is through our bank accounts. We should demand that before any increase is granted the water department should do the hard work of saving us money.”

Haver said PWD should be more focused on how to lower costs, rather than raising rates. “The Philadelphia Water Department has hired at least six consultants and two law firms to help it raise its rates by 21% and not a single consultant to find ways of lowering costs,” he said. “If the Philadelphia Water Department were more interested in saving ratepayers money than in raising their rates, they would hire consultants to help them save money.”

The final decision will be made by an independent board set up to review rate hikes.

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