After several postponements, Columbia City Council today might vote to cut water system access fees for nearly 18,000 customers, many of whom have railed against high fees that took effect last summer.
But 90 percent of Columbias 142,000 customers largely homeowners will get little to no break if council adopts the fee-cut options that are to be discussed at an afternoon work session.
Access fees, called base rates, will require two votes by council before any reduction would take effect.
Council set a special work session to deal with a plan that would cut in half access fee increases imposed last July for customers who have water lines at least one-inch in diameter, according to an analysis by Columbias utilities staff.
About 90 percent of customers have lines narrower than one inch and, therefore, would be unaffected.
Still, the monthly fee for 6,300 customers with one-inch lines would be $9.74 instead of the current $15.
The 30 customers who have the largest lines, 10 inches or more, would pay $463.79 monthly instead of the current $750.
Those reductions are less than half the current fees because a strict 50 percent across-the-board cut would have lowered fees for one-inch and 10-inch customers to less than what it was before the changes.
But customers with lines that range from 11/2 inches to 8 inches would enjoy an exact 50 percent cut in the fee increase. That does not mean their monthly bills would be reduced by half.
The fee is separate from and added to rates customers pay for the volume of water they use each month.
Last summer, council approved a new access fee structure that for the first time in more than two decades imposed higher fees on customers who use more water. Before the change, residential and commercial customers paid the same monthly fee, which was less than $6.
As of July 1, the fee quadrupled and even soared to 28 times the monthly rate for those who consumed more water, especially to supply irrigation or fire suppression systems. The fee is imposed every month, even if no water flows through that line that month. Customers are paying for having access to water in the event of a fire or some other major use, the citys consultant on the rates has said.
The change in the fee structure triggered howls of protest, especially from small businesses and churches.
Council has been struggling ever since to find a balance between the outcry and an anticipated big price tag to repair Columbias failing sewer system. The fee and the rates were set in order to raise enough money to pay for five years of sewer system improvement that soon will be mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has been investigating problems with sewer overflows and is expected to issue a consent decree, which is a legally binding agreement to upgrade the sewer system.
Todays meeting begins at 2 p.m. at the former Eau Claire town hall, 3905 Ensor Ave.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.