In Baltimore and around the nation, increasing debt and income disparity is leading to a sharp increase in the number of people who are being forced to choose between food and utilities.
In response to the rise in accounts with late water payments, Baltimore’s Department of Public Works has terminated service to nearly 5,000 residents with overdue bills. At the same time, however, they have only turned off service to 11 commercial accounts. More than 350 large commercial accounts still owe more than $15 million in unpaid water bills — equaling the total amount owed by every residence in the city of Baltimore combined. More than one-third of delinquent accounts are businesses.
While Baltimore was busy shutting off water for low-income residents in the heat of the summer, the city lent its water infrastructure to a 1000-foot water slide in which participants paid $25 for a single ride.
The City’s 1000-foot water slide on Hillen Road in Baltimore
“Hoses sprayed people with cold water as they shot down. A puddle greeted them at the end,” Mark Puente wrote for theBaltimore Sun. “Many kept cool by walking under misters spraying cool water from a Baltimore City firetruck.”
The crackdown on overdue water bills began last March 26 after the Bureau of Water and Wastewater sent out notices to about 21,000 delinquent accounts in the city and 4,000 accounts in Baltimore County. Beginning in March, the agency has collected nearly $25 million from overdue accounts, with less than $5,000 from coming from commercial accounts.
Since then, the agency has arranged for almost 6,000 residential accounts to continue service through grants, discounts, and hardship exemptions.
Commercial properties in the Baltimore area with large unpaid bills include Pennington Partners LLC, which owes about $422,000, according to city records; Atlantic Alliance, which owes $238,000; Tricap Management Inc., which owes $215,000; and Sojourner-Douglass College, which owes $103,000. None of them have had their service turned off.
Baltimore’s Department of Public Works also refuses to confirm that municipal accounts, some of which have not been paid for years, are still receiving service.
One long-overdue municipal water bill was recently brought to DPW’s attention by The Brew.
The bill for close to $17,000 to a recreational center in Baltimore run by the Department of Recreation and Parks –does not appear to have ever been paid. The address was eligible for cut-off, according to online records, but service remained active.
What is very apparent is that in a city which has been the subject of scrutiny for their two-tiered justice system, the divide between residents and corporate interests continues to increase while the needs of the public are pushed aside.