March 18, 2010

Analysis: Brochin water bill gets hosed — so constituents will continue to take a bath

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What happens to property owners who don’t pay their water bills? For most people, it means no bathing, because the local government shuts off service.

But that apparently isn’t always the case in [CORRECTED] Baltimore City, where Sen. Jim Brochin was trying to pass a bill to make it harder for counties to seize properties over delinquent water debt.

The bill would triple the amount allowed in delinquency from about $250 to $750 before penalties kick in that can result in foreclosure. It would also extend the time that it takes for that punishment to kick in, from two to three months.

Senators from other counties say they’ve never heard of a water bill foreclosure problem, and sought to exempt their districts.

Republican Sen. Richard Colburn of the Middle Shore said the counties he represents don’t foreclose on homes because of late water payments. He wanted all nine counties on the Eastern Shore removed from the bill. In the end, an unusual motion was made to postpone the bill indefinitely, which passed by one vote — 24 to 23.

“If you’ve got big problems in Baltimore City or Baltimore County then so be it, I’ll vote for the bill if you just amend my counties out,” Colburn said.

Brochin appealed to his colleagues with tragic stories of predatory foreclosure, but more and more senators said they would also submit amendments to remove their counties from the measure.

“I’m disappointed,” Brochin said. “I think one of our jobs down here is to stand up for people who aren’t able to stand up for themselves. You win some you lose some, but this one was tough to lose.”

–Nick DiMarco

Nick@MarylandReporter.com