Water rate increases draw discussion at Campbell council
By Graig Graziosi
City council met this week for the first time since Mayor Nick Phillips announced that water rates would increase in the city beginning April 1.
Usage rates will increase $2, from $4.50 per thousand gallons used to $6.50 per thousand gallons used.
Phillips said the rate increase came at the recommendation of state auditors who reviewed the city’s budget for fiscal year 2018 and noted the water department as an area of concern.
The city’s water department – which has been operating at a deficit for the past three years – has been trying to contend with the rising cost of treatment chemicals and increasing federal regulations, while attempting to maintain aging equipment and fix frequent breaks in the nearly century-old waterlines.
On top of that, rate increases over the past 20 years have been few and far between and have not kept up with inflation.
Phillips said the water rates were a “political football” in the past, and no previous mayor wanted to be the one to have raised the water rates. The increase will be the second during Phillips’ tenure as mayor. In 2016, he increased the fixed rate from $12.75 to $21.75.
Council President George Levendis supported the mayor’s decision.
“I want to thank the mayor for doing what he had to do,” Levendis said.
Councilman Joseph Mazzoca, D-3rd, asked Joe Tovarnak, the city water superintendent, if water department employees would read water meters more often and charge customers based on actual use as opposed to usage estimates as a result of the rate increase.
Tovarnak said he would make sure of it, but he noted unforeseen circumstances, such as weather and emergency repairs, can hinder the department employees from reading every meter in the time for the billing cycle.
Levendis questioned whether the department employees were reading the maximum amount of meters they can in a workday and said he would try it himself by walking the meter readers’ routes and counting how many homes he can reach at a reasonable pace.
The city has been debating the ultimate fate of the water plant since late last year, hosting community meetings to gauge whether residents would rather sell the plant or fund its repairs through permanent levies and further rate increases.
An assessment of the total cost of repairing the plant is expected to be finished within the month, after which the city will host another public meeting to determine its course of action.