Philadelphia Water Department pleads case for rate increase

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Philadelphia Water Department is asking for a 17% rate increase, to be phased in over two years. The utility is trying to make up for losses suffered in the COVID-19 pandemic.

When COVID-19 hit, the Water Department withdrew a rate increase request, restored service to 15,000 customers who were in arrears and kept 70,000 customers connected as they fell behind in payments, while facing its own challenges, including a $38 million revenue loss.

"COVID put a lot of extra financial burden on us at the same time we're dealing with rising costs," said Commissioner Randy Hayman. He said the department reduced its budget, dug into reserves and put off capital projects.

However, as this week's disastrous water main break in Nicetown demonstrated, postponing maintenance can be costly. "The infrastructure is reaching its end of life stage," he warned.

Under the proposed plan, rates would increase by 11% this September and 5% next September. A monthly bill of $66 dollars would go up to $74 this year and $78 in 2022.

The request has gotten a cool reception so far in City Council. Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez denounced the proposal, calling it "stunning and tone-deaf," though Hayman insisted the request went through an engineering review to make sure it’s only enough to maintain the current level of service.

"The rate that we present affects our families, our neighbors and our friends. We take it very seriously as far as establishing what the rate has to be," he said.

It will be up to the water rate board to decide, however, after a series of public hearings. The instructions for how people can participate are below.

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