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D.C. Councilman Proposes Relief for Cemeteries Buried in Skyrocketing Water Bills

Cemeteries in Washington, D.C., have new hope in getting relief from their skyrocketing water bills.

The move comes after a News4 I-Team investigation revealed some historic cemeteries were considering shutting down because of growing fees they couldn't afford to pay.

On Tuesday, D.C. Councilman Brandon Todd introduced legislation to lower the fee that's causing the problem.

"This bill is designed to alleviate some of that financial hardship," he announced to his colleagues.

Todd represents Ward 4, home to Rock Creek Cemetery, the District's oldest and the subject of a News4 I-Team investigation which exposed how their water bill had grown to $200,000 a year, even though they were using less water.

"Four Supreme Court justices are buried there, and there's so much history, and we would hate to see their doors closed. So certainly it's incumbent upon us in the city to do what we can to help them," said Councilman Todd.

Most of the bill is actually a DC Water fee, called the Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge. It's based on the square footage of the property that's made of concrete, or other surfaces likely to increase stormwater runoff, like rooftops and sidewalks.

Todd's proposal would exempt private roads and parking lots from the calculation that determines how much each customer has to pay.

"This couldn't be a better beginning to what will undoubtedly be a long process," said Jim Jones with Rock Creek Cemetery, "We are very happy they have stepped up and taken on this burden."

Last month, Jones told the I-Team the cemetery's future was in jeopardy if something didn't change. Under Todd's proposal, the cemeteries would still pay part of the fee, but the bills would be significantly lower.

"I expect that there will be a robust conversation from many different sides talking about how we move forward and what that looks like," said Todd.

Following the I-Team's series of reports, DC Water agreed to look at the fairness of how the fee is calculated for all customers. The rates committee will begin tackling that at its meeting Tuesday Nov. 14.

The fees are paying for a $2.6 billion project to build large underground tunnels which will keep sewage and stormwater from flooding our rivers. It's the biggest public works project in DC since the metro was built.

Todd says there's no question it's needed.

"And it does have to be paid for. We just have to figure out how we can lessen the burden on some of our institutions that simply cannot pay," he added.

Jones agreed the project is a good one, "We want to see them do it. We'd just like to be around when they finish."

That project is funded primarily by water customers.

Some homeowners and members of Washington, D.C.'s faith community also told the I-Team they have been unfairly impacted, with bills jumping by hundreds of dollars a month.

"We want to see clean water. So we're perfectly happy to make a fair contribution we're just looking for a little bit of equity," said Jones.

The D.C. Council also plans to discuss the issue and hear from the public at a meeting Friday, Nov. 17. But because DC Water is financially separate from D.C. government, it is unclear whether anything the council does would be binding.

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