The City Council on Tuesday, March 13, approved a 7 percent increase in the water rate.
The vote passed 4-to-1, with Mayor Valerie Keehn voting against. Keehn questioned the retroactive billing, as users will pay in May for water used since November.
This is a tax increase on water that the taxpayers have already used, said Keehn, who said during discussion of the vote that the billing process might be illegal. "I'm very dubious as to how this is going to play out for the taxpayers of this city."
Commissioner of Finance Matthew McCabe said the city has used this method of billing for years and that utility businesses in the private sector employ the same type of billing process.
"What is in place is right and proper, and we are able to do this," he said.
McCabe pointed out the city has gone through audits without the billing being called into question.
Keehn, who objected to what she called retroactive billing, said past increases did not help balance the water fund, which she said carries a nearly $2 million operating deficit. "History has shown that these increases do nothing to mitigate the deficit," she said.
McCabe and Commissioner of Accounts John Franck noted said that if there is an operating deficit, the only way to rebuild a fund balance is to increase the water rate.
Under the increase, most of the approximate 8,750 water customers in the city will pay 65 to 75 cents more per 1,000 cubic feet (7,500 gallons) of water used. A quarterly water bill for an average home that uses 2,000 cubic feet of water will rise to $26.80 from $25.50, or a yearly increase of $5.20, according to the Department of Public Works.
About half of city customers use less than 2,000 cubic feet every three months, the department said. Large commercial accounts will see their water rates increase by a lower rate.