After more than 30 years in business, the only laundromat in Mount Airy could be all washed up.
Pat and Gary Frey, owners of the Mount Airy Laundromat, say closing its doors could be their only option if the town does not change its water rates to a “fair” price.
In a recent interview, the Freys said their reason for closing would be high water rates, but Mayor Patrick Rockinberg said the couple should re-evaluate their business plan.
“It would be doubtful that the cost of their water would drive them out of business,” Rockinberg said in a telephone interview.
The Freys disagree. They said the laundromat would have to raise its prices by 565 percent in order to keep up with the water rates.
That means instead of paying $2.50 for a single load, customers would be charged $14.13. Or instead of paying $7 to use the 55-pound washer, customers would pay $39.55.
“The customers of Mount Airy Laundromat can not afford such an extreme increase,” the couple said in a flier that shows recent water rates. Many of their customers are low-income or elderly, they said Thursday.
Every week, Pat Frey, a social worker, and her husband, a real estate agent, pay about $550 toward the water bill they got behind on last year. The couple fell behind on their payments after the town switched to a tiered water rate system. In July 2012, a graduated system went into effect, and residents who used more water were required to pay more.
The Freys say that’s not fair.
In a petition signed by more than 200 customers, they explain that “it would be like being charged $3.60 for 5 gallons of gas and being charged $18.00 for 10 gallons of gas. You would find that unfair, and we find that unfair, for that is how the Laundromat is charged for water.”
On average, the laundry uses about 380,000 gallons of water per quarter. The switch to the tiered system left them with a bill for almost $6,000 — a number too high for the couple to manage, even though town officials say they are willing to work out a payment plan that would help the Freys catch up.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Rockinberg said he has done everything in his power to help the Freys, including coming up with a “multiyear” repayment plan for their bill.
Rockinberg also asked his staff to research water rates in surrounding areas, and it was determined the town’s rates were in the middle of the range.
“I feel that I have gone above and beyond,” Rockinberg said of his willingness to waive interest and fees in the future.
Even with those concessions, the Freys said that wouldn’t be enough to keep their business open because the water rate needs to change.
The possibility of closure has customers like Patty Gray worried because she uses the laundromat twice a week.
“I don’t have a washer and I don’t have a dryer,” Gray said in a telephone interview. She lives less than two miles from the laundromat and would have to travel to Frederick to do her laundry, a trip she does not want to make.
“That’s crazy,” Gray said.
Before the change, from 2005 to 2011, the couple’s water bill ranged from about $1,000 to $4,900, according to their records.
Due to the increase, the couple’s struggle has resulted in cutoff notices, even though Pat Frey has agreed to pay the town about $550 a week to catch up with back payments. The most recent notice threatened another cutoff within 30 days.
“The mayor told me specifically that we could not have the taxpayers pay for our water,” Pat Frey said, and she responded that the Freys are not asking anybody to pay for their water.
Follow Cara R. Anthony on Twitter: @CaraRAnthony.