Water/sewer rates raised for fourth year in a row; two or three more to come

By Ralph Echtinaw

St. Louis residents will pay 10.65 percent more for water and sewer beginning Sept. 1, as city council voted Tuesday to raise rates for the fourth year in a row.

A residential customer who uses 4,000 gallons a month now pays $37.79 for water and $46.37 for sewer. 

After the new rates kick in the same customer using the same amount of water will pay $42.37 for water and $50.75 for sewer.

Water and sewer rates are expected to increase by about 10 percent a year for two or three more years before the fee is where the experts say it should be.

The water and wastewater billing comes in two parts. A “readiness to serve” charge is paid by every homeowner and business regardless of how much water they use. A “commodity” charge is based on how much water a customer uses.

Sewer rates have risen more than water rates, going from a $7.26 readiness to serve charge in 2017 to $23.81 this year. The commodity charge for wastewater (5.84 per 1,000 gallons) is only slightly higher than it was in 2017 ($5.66).

Water rates have risen less dramatically, going from a readiness to serve charge of $19.84 in 2017 to $23.81 this year. But the commodity charge for water has gone from $3.24 per 1,000 gallons in 2017 to $4.64 this year.

To see how much water and wastewater you’re being billed for, look at the water and sewer lines on your city bill and move your finger across to the Usage column. That is how many hundreds of gallons you used during the billing period.

Convert that to thousands of gallons by moving the decimal point one place to the left and multiply by the commodity charge, then add the readiness to serve charge. The result should match the dollar amount on your bill.

In case you’re wondering if watering your lawn in spring and summer increases your wastewater bill, it doesn’t. The city takes an average of your water use from Sept. 21 through May 19 and used that to calculate what you owe for wastewater from May 20 to Sept. 20.

Once the new rates take effect the city should bring in about $3,461,000 a year; up from $3,101,140, said City Manager Kurt Giles via email.

The money is needed to bring the city’s water and sewer infrastructure up to date.

For example, a project to replace water lines, sewer lines and pavement on Center from Mill to Pine and on Pine from Center to M46 is expected to cost $768,500.

Another project to replace the water main under M46 from Watson to Pine is expected to cost $393,500. The administration hopes to begin construction as early as next year and as late as 2024.

The additional money coming in from the water/wastewater rate increases will help to pay off bonds that must be sold to fund the work.

Unfortunately, the rate increases don’t stop with water and wastewater.

Councilmen also raised the charges for solid waste collection ($15.51), yard waste collection ($13.71) and hazardous waste collection (45 cents) by 5 percent.

Collectively, these items appear under the heading “REFUSE” on your bill. It’s $28.26 now and will go to $29.67 beginning July 1.

The night of rate increases hit a snag when electric rates came up. The administration recommended a revenue neutral plan where commercial users get a 0.5 percent decrease and homeowners get a 2 percent increase. This would have been the third and final year of a rate adjustment that balanced what residential and commercial customers are paying with the expense of maintaining their service. “The idea is that one customer class can be subsidizing another,” Giles said. He also noted that St. Louis electric rates “are considerably less than Consumers Energy, even with these minor increases.”

But councilmen were silent when a motion was called for to approve the new electric rates. “We have to keep in mind we are owned by the taxpayers, and so we have to be favoring them,” said Councilman George Kubin.

So “the current rates remain in effect until such time as a resolution is adopted by council to change rates,” Giles said via email.

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