City sewer, water rates headed for a big bump; public hearing set for tonight

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Editor's note: No one from the public will be allowed inside City Council chambers for tonight's Public Hearing and City Council workshop. An earlier version of this story was incorrect.

ROCHESTER - Rochester residents can expect their quarterly water bills to go up by 5 percent and their sewer bills to jump 10 percent if the City Council OKs the measure.

A Public Hearing on the rate hikes will be held tonight, but no public input will be allowed except by email or phone.

Those wishing to share comment with the council can email or leave a voicemail (603-330-7107). Voicemail must be received no later than noon today while email should be sent by 5 p.m. today.

All email and voicemail communications will be included with the council packet as an addendum.

The anticipated hikes will add about $7 to the average resident's quarterly water bill and almost $12 on a quarterly sewer bill.

The Utility Advisory Board called for the hikes last fall, and the city Finance Committee voted last month to send the proposal on to the full City Council.

The board says the increases are necessary to pay for capital improvements needed to keep the system operating at the high level residents have come to expect.

The UAB noted that rates have not kept up with the Consumer Price Index during that past 10 years or so, during which time the city has spent substantial dollars on improvements to the infrastructure and in added technology.

"These improvements/changes have led to the sewer/water rates being insufficient to support the operation to maintain safe and clean water for the residents of Rochester," the UAB said in its proposal. "Since the city had not increased rates on an annual basis and for the most part as a smaller percent increase, it is necessary to have a larger increase for 2020."

The board said that even with the increases the city is "closer to the median for water and sewer rates with comparable local cities."

It suggested the city send out a letter explaining the increases in an effort to be transparent.

The board-suggested letter is below:

The City of Rochester has been proactive in applying the latest technology and processes necessary to provide our residents with clean and safe water. Here are a few of the factors that have benefitted from this focus: Our City employees have contributed to our clean and safe water by: Constantly upgrading and improving the water and sewer infrastructure and systems Extending services to underserved sections of the City. Adding users through the positive housing development in the City Our residents have also been part of our success by the smart use of our water resource: Purchasing new improved appliances that use less water Applying conscious awareness to conserve the water resource The result of actions by our employees and residents has been that overall water volume over the past few years has remained constant.

However, costs have continued to increase - personnel, supplies, technology, system improvements, etc. Therefore, we need to increase the water and sewer rates for 2020. Water rates will increase by 5% - an increase of $6.85 per billing cycle (quarterly) for the average user. Your bill can vary based on your personal usage. Sewer rates will increase by 10% for 2020 - an increase of $11.90 per billing cycle (quarterly) for the average user. Your bill can vary based on your personal usage.

As we have seen from reports in the media, both local and nationwide, safe and clean water is not something that we can take for granted. It requires the commitment of the City and our residents. With your continued support, the City of Rochester will strive to provide residents with quality water and sewer.

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