Residents of West Columbia and nearby areas face a double hit in their wallets soon.
That possibility looms after City Council gave initial approval Monday to higher water and sewer bills as well as a new tax on dining out, take-out meals, some snacks and bar tabs.
Both proposals were approved amid complaints that the package is too much at once. “I’m very,very concerned about the impact of all this together,” Councilman Tem Miles said.
The utility rate increase would add up to $4.50 a month to the typical residential bill for residents of the Lexington County community and about double that for those in nearby neighborhoods.
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Its also raises bills more for stores, offices, apartments and industry through reallocation of the cost for providing commercial service.
West Columbia provides water and sewer to about a fifth of the county’s 280,000 residents, city officials estimate.
The utility rate increase is needed to pay for higher costs of service, especially for the city’s share of improvements reducing sewage spills into the Congaree River, council members said.
Sewage disposal for West Columbia is provided by neighboring Columbia, which is under federal order to lower pollution from spills into the river.
“We don’t have any choice,” Councilman Tommy Parler said before the utility rate hike received unanimous approval.
It would take effect July 1, followed by the meal tax Sept. 1.
The new meal tax of two pennies on the dollar is similar to that in nearby communities. It is estimated to generate $1 million a year initially.
City leaders plan to use it primarily to pay for upkeep of the Riverwalk, new riverfront parking and beautification projects.
Adoption of the tax viewed as voluntary will help hold down property taxes and other fees, supporters said.
A suggestion for an advisory referendum on the idea went nowhere as the proposal received preliminary council approval 6-2. Miles and Jimmy Brooks opposed it while Boyd Jones was absent.
The meal tax is paid mostly by restaurant and bar patrons. It isn’t charged on groceries.
Its revenue must be earmarked to promote tourism, but local officials have wide discretion in its use.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483