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August 18, 2014

Lexington hiking fee on utility service

Residents and businesses in Lexington probably will be digging a little deeper in their wallets soon to pay power bills.

Residents and businesses in Lexington probably will be digging a little deeper in their wallets soon to pay power bills.

Town Council gave initial approval 6-1 Monday to raising the local fee on electric and natural gas bills from 3 to 5 percent.

The increase – awaiting final adoption soon as Sept. 8 – would add $2 monthly to a $100 bill.

It’s a step estimated to net Town Hall $650,000 a year, with revenue expected to rise as the steadily growing town of 18,000 residents expands further.

The extra money will be used initially to pay off debt, town administrator Britt Poole said.

Its use will be switched “over time” to pay for additional staff for maintenance of parks, trails and landscaping being developed as part of a community beautification plan, he said.

Although portrayed as a fee hike, “this is a tax increase,” said Councilman Ted Stambolitis, the only town leader in opposition.

He called for a plan earmarking its specific use in coming years.

But other council members said changing conditions would make such a guarantee impossible to honor.

Revenue from the fee hike is likely to be spent solely on debt reduction for up to three years, Poole said.

The fee increase is the latest in a series on utility services that town leaders have approved instead of raising property taxes.

A similar fee hike for telephone and cable television service was adopted five years ago while Town Hall’s charges for water and sewer service are stable after a series of increases ended in 2013.

Meanwhile, town leaders haven’t raised property taxes for 22 years.

Lexington’s fee increase on power bills is similar to what West Columbia adopted two months ago to pay for the rising cost of a variety of services.

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