ROGERS CITY - The City of Rogers City Council split on the issue of increasing a flat fee for city water and sewer customers at its meeting Tuesday, with some council members questioning its necessity and its effect on city residents.
The city council passed a $1.50 per-month increase for water and sewer customers, regardless of the amount of water they use. Sewer customers with a flat rate would see a $1.10 monthly increase. The hike was proposed during the city's budget workshop in April to curb rising costs and declining income for the city's water system. This combination has led to shortfalls in the drinking and sewer water budgets, City Manager Mark Slown said.
Council members Deb Greene and Gary Nowak both questioned the increase, and cast the two dissenting votes in the council's decision to pass the increases. Greene said she wanted an explanation of why the hike was necessary.
"I thought we had talked about this when we did the water and sewer rates, and here we're not even done with our project, and we're already raising the water and sewer bill," she said, referring to the city's USDA-funded water and sewer system upgrades.
Slown said that, while the city hadn't raised rates in two years because of the project, the increase was necessary due to a drop in consumption.
"The department's revenues have been dropping below those that are needed to sustain operations at the amounts that are required for normal operations," he said.
Currently, rates are at the bottom edge of what a rate study performed before the project began recommended, Slown said.
Nowak was concerned the increase, while not tied to consumption, would hit customers in their wallets, affecting water consumption even further.
"Every time we raise them, consumption's gone down," he said. "People can't afford to do their ... grass, they can't afford to do their gardens, and that's why consumption's gone down, and it's going to continue to go down if we keep raising rates."
Rogers City's water and sewer rates are lower than the state average for municipalities, Slown said, and while the city hasn't increased rates in two years, costs like fuel have continued to rise. Exacerbating the problem is a shrinking population.
"If we had more customers, and increased consumption, then that would help us in terms of stabilization of our finances," Slown said. "That's why it's so important that we grow the city, and increase the people here and increase the consumption."
The city also approved its schedule of fees for various services, including engineering, water, sewer and electricity services. Most were unchanged, while a few were increased to reflect the cost of parts, Slown said. One new cost is $50 per day or $500 per month charge for a backflow preventer for those using fire hydrants as a water source. The backflow preventer is now required by state law, and is intended to keep contaminated water from flowing back into the water supply.
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