GREENFIELD — If you live in Greenfield, your bill will increase Jan. 1.
On Wednesday, the Greenfield City Council approved changes to its water rates, and some bills will nearly double in 2016.
The vote followed a public hearing in which two residents addressed the council, which voted unanimously for a three-year phase-in for the changes in order to make the hike easier on residents’ budgets.
For a small family, bills will increase from an average of $13.82 to $24 in January, not including a $3 charge for fire protection. By 2018, they’ll increase to $27.
Greenfield resident Katie Novick said water for her family of three will cost about $100 more a year. It’s not enough to break her budget, she said, but it is an increase that concerns her. She’s worried about her neighbors, too, especially residents living on fixed incomes who likely can’t afford such a large increase, she said.
“Ten dollars more a month might have a big impact on them,” she said.
It’s the first time since 2008 that water bills have increased. In 2013, the city approved a more than 25 percent increase in wastewater rates.
Officials say an increase is necessary to help balance the budget for the water utility, which has consistently cost more to operate than it has earned.
In 2014, the money the city brought in from water sales and fees was $65,000 less than the water utility’s expenses; and that figure doesn’t take into account future repairs and maintenance on the aging system.
The water department, which provides about 2.5 million gallons of water to homes and businesses each day, needs to increase rates in order to keep up with its operating costs while performing needed maintenance on the city’s water system. It can’t keep dipping into its savings to cover maintenance and repairs on the aging system, said Buzz Krohn of O.W. Krohn & Associates, the city’s financial consulting firm.
Residents and property owners will be charged a flat base rate for their meters for the first time. A small family will pay a $10 base rate in 2016, a $11.50 base rate in 2017 and $13 in 2018. While a base rate is being introduced for the first time, the cost per 1,000 gallons of water is decreasing about 4 cents for residents.
The phase-in is aimed at helping seniors and low-income families who live on fixed incomes adjust to the changes.
Additionally, Krohn told Novick there are relief programs in place that can help struggling residents pay expenses such as water bills. The utility billing department has a history of working with folks who struggle to pay their full bills if they at least make an effort, he said.
The residents who will likely see the most dramatic change in their bills are those who use little water. Currently, the city charges a minimum fee of $7.08 for 2,000 gallons of water or fewer (the average small household uses about 4,000). Those bills will increase from $7.08, not including fire protection, to $17 for 2,000 gallons next year. By 2018, it will be $20.
Council member Greg Carwein said he uses between 900 and 1,400 gallons of water a month and is used to a very low water bill. What he’s paying, he admitted, probably isn’t doing much to help the water department cover its everyday operating expenses.
He said he understands residents with fixed-incomes might struggle at first, but he’s thankful the changes are being phased in to ease that burden.
“When I look at what I pay for water, it’s pretty low,” he said.
Even after the new increase, residents will get a good deal on water compared with similar-sized cities, Krohn said. For example, rates for a small family are $34.90 in Ingalls and $52.50 in Spiceland.
The Greenfield City Council on Wednesday approved new rates for the water utility. Here’s how the average monthly water bill (small household using 4,000 gallons) will change over the next few years.