Protestors say the city's $49.40 monthly payment for water and sewer service is just too much. They say it can be crippling to seniors and to people with low incomes. Monday night, they took that fight to council.
The topic wasn't on the agenda, but protestors did present a 1,300 person signed petition to support their complaints.
The signs had clever sayings like "Water/Sewer rates - the city's cash cow" and "Sewer Rates Stink". But the message was very serious.
"The water rates are ridiculous and they've voted this in and didn't bother to tell anyone," said Lee Shewmake, who was protesting the event. "I think it's going to be a significant problem for the lower income families in this city."
The rate increase went up a few dollars in July, after the normal city council approval process which includes a public hearing and employees with utilities say they have to meet their budget too - a government mandate.
But at $49.40 a month just to get water, the cost adds up to nearly $600 per household per year just to get water, a basic necessity. Residents still have to pay for water usage on top of that too.
"What most people are not aware is, if you don't pay your water bill, it can put you out of your house," said L. Shirley Harvey who was protesting too.
"Everybody needs to have water so I think it needs to come from another source," said Karen Andrew, who was protesting outside City Hall. "Those who are really struggling, you know, very low income, it's not fair to them."
Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall spoke to council in an attempt to address some of the concerns. He said a study is underway to look at the rate, and that there are plans to try to help some people really struggling to pay that bill.
"For people who have no money, even one extra dollar is a lot which is why the mayor directed that we create a lifeline rate and that will be in effect for the upcoming budget."
The lifeline program would essentially offer cheaper rates for those who couldn't afford water otherwise. Still no word officially on whether the study could mean lower charges for everyone else too.
Many city officials questioned the rate tonight- a study due this winter will examine options for changing the water and sewer rate.
Mayor Jones issued this statement:
"I, too, want to see water and sewer rates lowered for our residents We've taken steps to hopefully move us in the direction of adjusting rates, and I'm expecting recommendations from DPU by the beginning of the year. I've also asked DPU to explore how we can offer more life-line rates for those that need them. We currently have our MetroCare program for the gas utility, but I want to see expanded options. Our challenge is that we face a number of fixed costs that must be paid that are inseparable from the service of delivering quality water and wastewater services. We have an aging infrastructure and a combined sewer system and we have to maintain historic canals and water and wastewater treatment plants that were built in the early to mid 1900's. Even with these challenges, the City offers he lowest connection fees in the area. It has also been erroneously communicated that our minimum water rates and our minimum sewer rates are the highest in the country. that is not accurate." - Mayor Dwight C. Jones regarding water/sewer rates in the city
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