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Charlotte City Council Votes Tonight On Towing, Water Rates

The Charlotte City Council is expected to approve a new ordinance tonight meant to crack down on "predatory towing." Companies will have to be available 24 hours to return a towed vehicle and won't be allowed to tow the vehicle outside Charlotte city limits. The new ordinance also requires tow truck drivers to surrender a vehicle free-of-charge if the owner returns to catch the towing still in progress. Towing companies say the new ordinance is an unfair burden. Council members are also scheduled to vote on significant changes to Charlotte-Mecklenburg water and sewer rates. Most Charlotte-Mecklenburg residents will have higher water bills if the proposed changes are approved. The Utilities Department wants to impose a new flat monthly fee of about $6 on all customers to create a more stable source of revenue. Right now the department relies mostly on money from rates - and those fluctuate depending on the season and weather conditions such as drought. The proposed rate changes will lead to smaller bills for about six percent of customers - those who use more than 13,000 gallons of water per month. Their bills could drop by as much as $40 because of a change in how sewer rates would be charged. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Director Barry Gullet says the largest water users have been paying for more services than they actually use, so the new water rate structure is more fair. Environmental advocate David Merryman of the Catawba Riverkeeper says the changes send the wrong message. "The utilities message for years has been we need to conserve, we need to conserve. And now they're taking a step to say well we need to conserve, but if you use a whole lot we're gonna give you a break." The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department says conservation is still a priority and the majority of customers will have a motivation to use less water under the new rate structure. The Charlotte City Council meets tonight at 7 p.m. and is scheduled to vote on the proposal.