By Ralph Echtinaw
Get ready to pay more for water in St. Louis, as city council voted 3-2 Tuesday to hike water rates for the fifth year in a row.
This year’s 9.32 percent adjustment will raise the water and sewer fee for a homeowner who uses 4,000 gallons/month by $8.68.
The increase takes effect Oct. 1.
Voting in favor were Mayor Tom Reed and councilmen George Kubin and Roger Collison. Voting no were council persons Bill Leonard and Liz Upton.
The five annual increases are the result of a 2017 study that aimed to enable the city to raise enough money to service debt required to replace dilapidated sewer and water lines.
Public Services Director Keith Risdon said state government forced this water and sewer asset management on all cities in the state. “It’s not something we invented here,” he said. “The state imposed it on all of us. We didn’t do this because we wanted to. We did this because, number one, we should have been doing it, and number two, they forced us into it.”
Longtime council member Kubin remembered a time when council held the line on electric rate hikes too long. “Experience has shown that when we ignore utilities it comes back later and costs us more,” he said. “For many years we would not raise electric rates. So for seven or eight years we wouldn’t do it. Then all of a sudden we had to raise them 10 or 15 percent. I learned back then that if you took a little at a time you didn’t have to have it be so bad at the end.”
Though the study calls for six or seven annual rate hikes of about 10 percent, there was some confusion Tuesday as to whether the sixth increase will be implemented next year.
This year’s increase “is the last recommendation from the study,” Giles said. “There’s not one for next year.”
Clarifying that by email he added this: When I said ‘this was the last rate change recommendation that we have,’ it was because recommendations included in the study are not provided for anything past year five. The idea is that rate studies should be updated every three to five years to determine what future adjustments are recommended.”
Finance Director Bobbie Marr spoke up to say a sixth rate hike is needed next year: “We’re supposed to (do it),” she said. “Water and sewer, you need money in that fund to exist.”
Nevertheless, Future water and sewer projects are in limbo on account of dramatically rising construction costs that the study didn’t anticipate. Furthermore, Risdon pointed out that people naturally conserve water when prices rises, and that attenuates the affect of rate increases.
The city hopes to do water main projects in the Hebron Street area and North Pine. But it remains to be seen if the city can afford it.
Though the daylong Independence Day celebration on Saturday, July 16, was well attended and considered a success (more or less), a gripe session developed during public comments time Tuesday.
Councilwoman Liz Upton and her husband Adam, who spearheaded the event, were critical of Downtown Development Authority Director Phil Hansen for being less than helpful.
“I would like for our downtown development director to have worked with us,” Adam Upton said. “The only reason I’m here is it doesn’t seem like you’re taking this seriously.”
The normally even-tempered Giles was clearly exasperated when he responded: “I certainly take all these things seriously, and parties are not the primary function of the city. My goodness nobody’s working against you on this.”
Liz Upton said she tried to involve Hansen, but he didn’t respond to her emails. “I felt like I was pulling teeth this entire year to make this happen,” she said.
Reed took umbrage on Hansen’s part: “Attacking the credibility of our downtown director without him being here is totally unfair,” he said.
Everyone agreed on one point. The event was organizationally flawed.
Better planning is needed if the event has a repeat performance next year, said Police Chief Richard J. Ramereiz Jr. “I was the only person (from the police) on Saturday,” he said. “I was swamped all day long trying to help Bobbie get barricades out, trying to help Kurt and Bill put the dunk tank together. And that came incomplete.”
Ramereiz returned Sunday morning to see that the single trash can in the parking lot “was heaped over. There’s a mountain of trash. There’s trash piled around it. But then the whole parking lot was scattered full of trash. A raccoon was carrying a popcorn bag down the street.”