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Increase in utility rates up for vote

More than $50 million is sought to fund sewer
and water projects.
Wednesday, October 15, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:24 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Columbia and Boone County residents will pay a few dollars more for water and sewer service during the next decade if voters pass three bond issues on Nov. 4.

City voters will see three bond issues on the ballot, while county voters will see only a proposal from the Boone County Regional Sewer District. All three measures call for increases in monthly water and sewer bills.

    The city’s Proposition 1 calls for $18.5 million to finance Columbia sewer projects. It would incrementally increase the average residential sewer bill from $10.34 per month to $12.49 by 2008. City officials have said the money would pay for routine maintenance, upgrades to aging sewer systems and the extension of sewer lines into undeveloped areas.

      The city’s Proposition 2 seeks

      $28.3 million for water projects, including an expansion of the water treatment plant at McBaine and new water mains to boost capacity and improve pressure in some areas of the city. It would incrementally increase the average residential water bill from $14.14 per month to $18.15 by 2009.

      The sewer district’s bond issue, which appears as “Question” on the ballot, asks for $3.85 million to finance several projects, including some connections to Columbia’s sewer system that would eliminate lagoons or smaller wastewater treatment plants. The bond issue would boost the average residential customer’s bill from $19.45 per month to $26.26 by 2011. Although all county residents will vote on this measure, only sewer district customers would pay for the projects.

    In all three cases, officials said rates probably would not fall even after the bonds are retired, although many could remain consistent.

    City officials have said that many of the projects outlined in their plans will have to be done regardless of whether voters approve the measures, and that revenue bonds are the cheapest alternative.

    City Manager Ray Beck told the Boone County Smart Growth Coalition earlier this month that the state could require some sewer improvements to keep the city in compliance with environmental regulations, and Water and Light Director Dick Malon warned that without additional water capacity, city residents could face water restrictions during dry summers.

    The city in August set a record for water use in a single day, nearly reaching the water plant’s daily capacity of 24 million gallons.

    Even with the proposed increases, Columbia water and sewer rates will remain comparatively low, city officials argue. Columbia residents already pay less, on average, for monthly sewer and water bills than many Midwest communities, Water and Light Department spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said.

    For example, St. Louis residents pay an average of $14.79 per month for sewer service and St. Louis County residents pay $16.83 for water. The most expensive Midwest sewer service uncovered by a Columbia survey was in Dayton, Ohio, at $28.33 a month.

    “We really are quite comparable. We have very cheap water. We’re really lucky to have a nice, clean supply,” Kacprowicz said.

    At $26.26 by 2011, the 5,400 customers of the Boone County Regional Sewer District will pay far more than city customers if the county’s sewer bond issue passes. The district’s rates are among the region’s highest because costs are spread among relatively few customers, said Lesley Oswald, the sewer district’s assistant manager.

    Officials said city and county businesses should expect no breaks on water and sewer rates if the bond issues pass. While Columbia businesses, depending on size, already pay from 10 cents to 30 cents less per 100 cubic feet of water than homeowners do, their bills will rise by the same percentage.


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