GREENVILLE — Greenville City Council’s Utilities Committee on Thursday revisited the city’s plans to increase rates on water and sewer for city residents.
By unanimous consent, all three committee members approved a recommendation to council for a decrease in the planned rate hikes.
A previous measure, which would have increased water rates by 50 percent in May 2021, and 18 percent in November 2021, as well as hikes of 25 and 10 percent for sewer rates, respectively, was voted down 6-0 during council’s March 16 meeting.
Instead, the committee will change the recommended percentage hikes to 20 percent in September 2021 and 10 percent in March 2022, for both water and sewer. Each subsequent year would see 20 percent increases in September and 10 percent increases in March, for a 3-year period. Following this, rates for each utility would increase 5 percent yearly unless it is revisited by council.
The committee will still recommend a switchover from quarterly to monthly billing, beginning this September.
The committee discussed a variety of ways to lessen the burden on citizens yet still be able to afford infrastructure improvements, including a new water tower and main waterline.
“The intent is to put the money in a safe place where it can be spent only on infrastructure,” said Councilman John Baumgardner. “That is my heartburn and I believe that is the heartburn of the rest of council.”
“Compared to other cities and even villages around us, we’re still the cheapest water rate, and I think there is a need for it. All we want to do is protect that money for infrastructure,” he added.
Safety/Service Director Ryan Delk told the committee that even beyond infrastructure improvements, operating costs are “still rising.”
“One example, wastewater sludge hauling, the prices keep going through the roof,” said Delk. “For water line hauling, the last [estimate] was $150,000, and the next closest bid was like $350,000.”
Delk added that the COVID-19 pandemic had caused construction costs to go up as well.
Baumgardner, as well as Councilmen Clarence Godwin and Doug Wright, agreed there needs to be a small increase in funding for everyday expenses.
Asked if the city is exploring outside funding options, such as federal or state infrastructure grants, Delk said the city was seeking those, but that certain conditions must to be met by the city before he could apply for such.
“Our plan is, once we get rates in line, that we can sustain to pay off low-interest loans. We want to move forward with two of our major projects, which is the main water line coming into the plant, around $1.5 million, and what we’re calling ‘Water Tower East’ out in the industrial park, which is somewhere around $6.5 million,” Delk said.
“Because our rates are so low, they [EPA, USDA, Small Cities] won’t give us grants,” said Baumgardner.
The committee will submit the revised recommendations to Greenville City Council at council’s April 20 meeting.