Just when you thought Baltimore couldn’t get more negative publicity (see Maryland governor: approving a $30 million Baltimore youth jail and rejecting $11.5 million for poorly functioning public schools), the embattled city has shut off water service to more than 1,600 customers in the past six weeks – including during the recent civil unrest—trying to collect more than $40 million in unpaid bills.
But the rub—as reported by The Baltimore Sun—is that the shut offs have affected mostly poor residents, sparing businesses who are also delinquent.
In fact, The Sun confirms that not one commercial property (who owe the biggest amounts), has been shut off and all of the service cuts so far have been to homes in “blue collar working class” sections of the city and county. Surprise!
City Council member Carl Stokes called the current enforcement “unfair,” and says that the city has lost revenue because it didn’t go after delinquent commercial accounts in previous years.
The businesses apparently refute the charges in court and then continue “business as usual,” sometimes even going bankrupt owing millions.
The Sun reports that more than 350 large commercial accounts make up a total of $15 million in unpaid water bills.
Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the city Department of Public Works, says, “Several large customers have paid, or made arrangements to do so. Others have not yet sent payments or made payment arrangements and remain subject to turnoff,” reports The Sun.
“We should do it a way that’s fair across the board,” counters Stokes. “It’s absolutely wrong to nickel-and-dime the average taxpaying resident and allow the business to get away with not paying for long periods of time.”
The Sun reports that activists have held protests asking the city to collect overdue bills from commercial accounts before going after residents. They’d like the city to impose a moratorium on shut-offs until officials conducted more outreach to residents and came up with a plan to protect renters if their landlords didn’t pay water bills.