Homeowners in the West Columbia area are likely to pay more soon for water and sewer service.
A rate hike is needed to pay for rising costs of operation and improvements designed to lessen sewage spills into the Congaree River, consultant Bill Bingham told City Council Monday.
A recommended increase in residential bills won’t be made for a month, but the average of nearly $27 a month is likely to go up a few dollars, he said.
Some council members said the idea won’t be popular even though it may be necessary.
“There’s going to be some hurt,” Mayor Bobby Horton said.
City Hall supplies utility service to 20,000 homes and businesses in and around the community, serving a fifth of Lexington County’s 275,000 residents, officials estimate.
Typically, raises are more for neighborhoods outside the community since residents there don’t pay city taxes.
If the rate hike proposal coming in mid-April is accepted by the nine council members, it would be the first in two years.
It could be the first of a series of raises that Bingham said are needed to keep pace with steadily increasing costs.
“There’s no way to avoid it,” he said, adding that the bills would remain among the lowest in South Carolina.
Some council members agree it’s time to consider small annual increases instead of periodic raises.
“This is not something we’d done a lot of,” Councilman Dale Harley said. “This is something greatly needed.”
Much of the rate hike is needed to pay for improvements intended to lessen pollution that the spills cause in the river flowing on the east edge of the city of 15,000 people.
Any increase adopted will pay mainly for the $8.8 million loan that city officials took out last year to pay their share of improvements at a facility in neighboring Columbia that has handled sewage disposal jointly for 40 years.
The annual cost also is doubling to nearly $900,000 a year for West Columbia for disposal of the average of up to 3.25 million gallons of sewage sent there daily.
Columbia is under a court order to end spills into the river from outdated sewers, making upgrades during the next 10 years expected to cost about $750 million.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483