City considers utility fee increases

Residents could see a hike in water and sewer rates in 2013 if proposed increases are approved next month. Elected officials evaluated proposed utility fee increases Nov. 15. The city is expected to hold a public hearing about the proposed fees Dec. 6.
Finance Director Lori Bartlett said the increase will help offset the debt in the city’s water-and-sewer funds. The debts are general-obligation debts. That means they are backed by taxpayers. The effect of the proposed rate increase on an average single-family unit is $6.85, about a 10-percent increase on a monthly bill.
“We’re getting into the situation where we need to increase fees and/or levy some of that money back to pay for those debts,” Bartlett said. “We don’t really have reserves sitting in other funds to help offset it at this point.”
Specifically, water-line charges could go from $12.50 per unit per bi-month to $18. The charge for water usage could see an increase of $.20, bringing it to $3.20 per 1,000 gallons. Sewer-utility rates could go from $2.65 to $2.80 per 1,000 gallons. Even with the proposed rate increase, the city still falls in the middle of the pack for utility bill charges in the area, Bartlett said.
St. Joseph is not the only city considering rate increases for the coming year. Sartell is considering a 5-percent increase in water rates and an increase of about 9 percent in sewer rates, according to city documents. St. Augusta is considering a 5-percent increase in both sewer and water rates. No city council has approved the proposed rate increases, including St. Joseph, Bartlett told officials Nov. 15.
Other fees that could be increased include those associated with noise and parking violations. Parking violations could go from a $50 fine to a $100 fine, and noise violations could go from a $100 to a $200 fine. Police Chief Pete Jansky said the proposed increase stems from the amount of time staff spends in these areas, as well as improving compliance with the ordinance. Officials also discussed fees for a community garden. If the project moves forward, it could cost residents $25 to reserve one of the 16 available plots. City Administrator Judy Weyrens said the city will pursue grant money to assist with the cost of the garden. If grant funding is not secured, it might not be a viable option, Weyrens told officials.
The city council meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of the month at St. Joseph City Hall. Elected officials are expected to vote on the proposed rate increase at their first meeting in December.

TaLeiza Calloway

TaLeiza Calloway is a professional journalist in Central Minnesota. Her byline has appeared in the St. Cloud Times and Central Minnesota Women Magazine. The Ohio native moved to Minnesota about four years ago. She joined the St. Joseph Newsleader staff as a reporter in November 2011.
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