About 41,500 homes and businesses across Lexington County will pay a little more soon to keep water flowing smoothly from their faucets.
Water and sewer rates are going up in midsummer as municipalities and other agencies improve segments of distribution and disposal networks as much as 40 years old.
“People don’t see what’s underground,” said former Lexington mayor Randy Halfacre, president of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce. “It takes a lot of money to keep it functional and up to date.”
The increases coming July 1 add as little as 40 cents in some rural neighborhoods and as much as $5.50 in areas near West Columbia to the typical residential bill each month – and more for businesses. Amounts vary by community in Cayce, Gilbert, Pelion, Red Bank, Summit, West Columbia and nearby areas.
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Making sure equipment is in good shape is vital to keep pace with steady growth, officials say.
“It’s necessary to cover operational costs of delivering services in today’s economy,” said Jay Nicholson, general manager of the Joint Municipal Water and Service Commission.
In Cayce, the rate hike will pay for repairs of a major water line along U.S. 321 while the increase that West Columbia will charge out-of-city residents is paying partly for rehabilitation of a supply tank as well as fire hydrant maintenance.
The rate hike in West Columbia is surrounded by disagreement.
Some city council members, including Mayor Joe Owens,oppose it as too much at once and prefer to spread it over a few years. But other city leaders say the increase – the first since 2010 – is overdue.
The rate increases come as local officials generally hold the line on raising taxes for other services.
Unlike other utility rate hikes, those adopted by municipalities don’t go to the state Public Service Commission for review and approval.
A larger share of the increases tends to fall on residents and businesses outside municipalities.
Some residents in outlying neighborhoods claim they are assessed more to keep utility bills lower for those who vote for local officials who determine rates.
Municipal officials counter that it’s more expensive to extend lines and expand plants to serve outlying areas.
County residents may pay the price of keeping utilities in shape to handle growth in a second way soon.
Major improvements in utility facilities and drainage to reduce flooding are included in a package of projects headed for the Nov. 4 ballot that would be paid for by a new penny-on-the-dollar sales tax countywide.