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Monthly bills for public water and sewer service are proposed to increase by 10 percent after July 1 for customers of the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission.

Homes served by central metered water and central unmetered sewer are currently charged $73.44. The new monthly rate, mainly driven by the cost of MetCom construction projects, would be $80.79.

If the current increase is approved, it would mark a 47 percent hike in monthly bills on residential water and sewer since Oct. 1, 2007, when the rate was $55.08 a month.

The St. Mary’s County commissioners have final authority over MetCom’s building budget, which stands at $7.6 million for water projects and $8.5 million for sewer projects in fiscal 2014. The MetCom board of trustees last Thursday chose a version of the building budget calling for a 10 percent rate hike, rather than a 20 percent hike presented by staff.

“I’m interested in looking at the 10 percent” increase, said Joe St. Clair, chairman of the MetCom board. With federal government budget cuts hitting St. Mary’s County, “it’s not a good time” for the 20 percent version, he said.

MetCom’s building budget for the next fiscal year starting July 1 includes $4.9 million for a replacement water tower in California, and two new water towers in Hollywood and Charlotte Hall. The 2 million-gallon water tower in California would serve more customers in the area, replacing the 650,000-gallon tower. A 500,000-gallon Hollywood tower would serve the Broad Creek neighborhood and could bring central water to the Hollywood town center. The Charlotte Hall tower, between 300,000 and 400,000 gallons, would replace a storage tank that was broken in the Aug. 23, 2011 earthquake.

There is more than $1 million for sewer replacements, $2.4 million for sewer pump station upgrades and replacements, and $3 million for the state-mandated upgrade of the county’s main wastewater treatment plant in Lexington Park. That money is only a portion of the overall project.

Bids on the upgrade of the Marlay-Taylor Wastewater Treatment Plant are between $31.3 million and $37.2 million, said David Elberti, chief engineer of MetCom. The lowest bid is $1 million more than budgeted and bids are being analyzed now, he said. The state may be able to contribute more to the project, he said.

Those on central sewer service pay $5 a month for sewage treatment plant upgrades across Maryland, up from $2.50 a month.

MetCom analysis of its monthly fees show that in fiscal 2008, when the residential bill for water and sewer was $55.08, there were 117 customers who were more than 90 days overdue. That number increased year after year, from 188, 211, 216, 431 to 656 this fiscal year.

“As these rates increase, so does the number of people unable to pay their bills,” Dan Ichniowski, acting director of MetCom, said Monday.

He said of the overall 47 percent increase in MetCom rates since 2007, “as the population grows, we need to provide these services.”

If MetCom’s infrastructure does not keep pace with the population’s growth, water and sewer lines will break and spill. “If we don’t replace these facilities it’s not going to get any better,” he said.

If the infrastructure doesn’t keep up, there can’t be new growth, he said.

Some parts of the central water and sewer lines in Lexington Park date back to the 1960s, 1950s and 1940s, Ichniowski said. The Patuxent Park neighborhood off Great Mills Road dates back to 1947. Its system is being replaced and upgraded in phases, while the St. Mary’s County Department of Public Works and Transportation replaces the neighborhood’s roads.

The St. Mary’s County commissioners have authority over where central sewer service goes, which drives concentrated development. MetCom implements those growth plans.

The county commissioners are scheduled to review MetCom’s building budget on April 23. MetCom would hold at least one public hearing before rates increase.

MetCom operates approximately 27 water systems serving 41,000 people and 53 sewer pumping stations serving about 36,000 people.

jbabcock@somdnews.com