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City Considers New Water Rates, Monthly Fee

http://66.225.205.104/JR20110214.mp3

The City of Charlotte is preparing to make major changes to the way people are charged for water use. Tonight the city council will hold a public hearing on the proposal. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department would like to impose a new fee on every water customer to help cover the cost of repairing pipes and paying off construction debt. 

It would be called an "Availability Fee" and run between $5 and $6 a month for most people. Utilities spokesman Cam Coley says the city currently relies on money from standard water rates to cover the cost of growth and repairs.

"This would provide a stable place to give all customers a piece of that improvement project fund," says Coley.

The new monthly fee would be the most visible change people would see on their water bills under this new proposal from the utilities department. But the rates themselves would also change. Currently there are four rate tiers, with people using the least amount of water paying the lowest rates. That would still be the case, but the lowest rate would be cut nearly in half in keeping with the city's effort to encourage conservation. On the other end of the spectrum, households that use lots of water and have large lawns to keep green would probably also see their bills go down a bit because of a lower cap on sewer charges.

Coley says that's an attempt to appease the large property owners who complain they're subsidizing the utility department's budget. "We don't want one customer base feeling like they're being charged more than the value of the service they're getting or supporting another customer," says Coley.

A year ago, a group of Cornelius residents complained of unusually high water bills, triggering a cascade of similar complaints from around the county. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department has since enlarged its customer service team and streamlined the process of dealing with bill complaints. At the same time, the city organized a stakeholder group to review the water rate structure. A summary of the proposed changes can be found on the utilities department website. A public hearing is scheduled for the Charlotte City Council meeting, which begins Monday, February 14th at 7 p.m.